The Universal Orlando theme park has found itself under fire after two families accused an employee of making a “racist” hand gesture while taking pictures with their children.
The actor, dressed as the Despicable Me character Gru, was seen making the “OK” hand gesture as he posed with the children. It is unclear whether it was the same actor in both incidents.
In March, Tiffiney Zinger and her family were at a character breakfast event at Universal Orlando when the picture was taken.
Zinger’s biracial daughter was standing next to Gru while her younger brother posed with a Minion. Months later, Zinger realized that the actor was flashing the hand gesture over her daughter’s shoulder.
There was a 29-second video of the incident.
Speaking to USA Today, Zinger said, “I’ve been emotionally distraught about it. I’m still pretty upset that someone felt they needed to do this to children. It can cause emotional stress on my child and her development.”
Her husband, Richard Zinger, added, “It’s more than the ‘OK’ sign. A lot of people don’t understand what that sign means.”
The family contacted Universal Orlando in August of 2019.
Zinger said, “I want to cause change. I hope this doesn't happen to another family again, and I pray that this doesn't happen to another kid."
A spokesperson for the Universal Orlando Resort later stated that the actor in the Zinger family picture had been fired.
The spokesperson stated, "We never want our guests to experience what this family did. 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. We remain in contact with the family and will work with them privately to make this right."
The Zinger family was offered free tickets and a gift card by the resort.
After the Zinger family story broke, a Hispanic family in Florida also found a picture of an actor dressed as Gru flashing the sign as he posed next to their five-year-old daughter.
The two families, who are represented by Attorney Lisa Riddle, filed complaints with the Florida Commission on Human Relations. They accused the resort of public accommodation discrimination.
Riddle stated, “Universal has refused to give us any information as to the identity of the Gru character they allegedly dismissed despite our numerous requests for such.”
She maintained that they were determined to “identify the costumed character” and uncover “what hiring, training and supervising shortfalls led to this.”
“Kids run up to these dressed characters with joyous abandon. To know that the people behind the costumes harbor hate towards certain children because of their race is heartbreaking. Universal should have the proper hiring, training and supervision in place to prevent what happened to these young girls,” Riddle added.