Two families are suing the theme park after the Despicable Me character, Gru, showed a racist hate sign with his hands while posing with the children during a meet and greet.
The civil rights lawsuit was filed on behalf of two girls, who were 5 and 6 years old at the time of the photos, in the Ninth Judicial Circuit Court in Orange County on June 23.
It includes photos from February and March 2019 showing the character making the racist upside-down “OK” hand gesture.
In 2017, the OK gesture was being used as a white power symbol. The association of the gesture with white supremacy derived from claims that the three upheld fingers resemble a “W” and the circle made with the thumb and forefinger resemble the head of a “P”, together standing for “White Power.”
The “OK” hand gesture has been defined as a sign used to indicate “hate” by the American Anti-Defamation League in 2017.
The first incident happened in February 2019 and the photo shows the character from Despicable Me, Gru with a five-year-old Hispanic girl while the actor displayed the white-power “OK” sign.
The second incident occurred on March 23, 2019, when a 6-year-old Biracial girl referred to as J.Z. attended a breakfast at Universal’s Loews Royal Pacific Resort and posed for a photo and video with an actor dressed in the Gru costume.
The actor placed a hand on her shoulder while displaying the “OK” hate symbol, according to the photo provided by the families.
The 6-year-old later printed out a screenshot from the video to show it to her school for a project but she was embarrassed when she was told she could not show it to her classmates because of the hand gesture in the pictures.
Her parents told her she couldn’t bring it to school because “a man did a bad thing to her because he did not like her because of her race and color,” the lawsuit says.
The young girl’s parents, Tiffiney Zinger, who is black, and her husband, Richard, who is white, noticed the symbol while scrolling through vacation photos in August. The family traveled from Colorado to Orlando for the breakfast.
The March 2019 incident at Universal’s Loews Royal Pacific Resort attracted national media attention that year, and a theme park spokesman later acknowledged the employee playing Gru had been fired.
“We never want our guests to experience what this family did,” Tom Schroder, Universal Spokesman told USA Today. “This is not acceptable, and we are sorry — and we are taking steps to make sure nothing like this happens again.”
“We can’t discuss specifics about this incident, but we can confirm that the actor no longer works here,” Schroder continued. “We remain in contact with the family and will work with them privately to make this right.”
In both incidents, the lawsuit claims the character’s handler or the park did nothing to stop it and is responsible. The employee’s name remains unknown.
Both families are claiming the girls suffered mental anguish, loss of dignity, humiliation, embarrassment, and other emotional distress due to the incidents.
The lawsuit claims Universal Orlando violated the Florida Civil Rights Act of 1992. The families are seeking more than $30,000 in damages.
Universal Orlando Resort, commonly known as Universal Orlando, is a very inclusive theme park and is an American theme park and entertainment resort complex based in Orlando, Florida. T
The resort is operated by Universal Parks & Resorts, a division of Comcast’s NBCUniversal.
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