Two families are suing Universal Orlando claiming an employee dressed as a character from the animated flick, Despicable Me, flashed the White power hand symbol during a photo-op with their children in two separate incidents in 2019.
Tiffiney and Richard Zinger claim they were at a Universal hotel character breakfast - where characters stop by your table to say hello and pose for pictures â when their 6-year-old daughter who is biracial and has autism, was excited to take a picture with the film franchise's main character, Gru, because she was a fan of the Minions, according to the girl's mother.
According to the lawsuit filed in an Orange Circuit Court late last month, the child posed next to Gru for a picture while the character made the "OK" hand gesture â a symbol associated with white supremacy. Tiffiney Zinger said she noticed the gesture for the first time when her son was going through family photos for a school project.
Employee was Fired After the Incident
The incident, which took place at Universal'sLoews Royal Pacific Resort in March 2019, drew nationwide attention and even led to the employee being fired by the theme park.
"We never want our guests to experience what this family did. This is not acceptable, and we are sorry â 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," spokesman Tom Schroder said in a statement at the time to USA Today.
Second Family Came Forward with Similar Allegations
A second family had a similar experience and came forward after reading the initial media coverage, Lisa Riddle, the Miami lawyer who filed the lawsuit told Florida Politics.
Joel Rodriguez, who is Hispanic, recalled visiting Universal Studios Florida theme park in February 2019, about a month before the Zingers, when the employee dressed as Gru who was acting "strangely" agreed to take a picture with his daughter after he "begged" him. The family scrolled through their old photos and looked closer to find their 5-year-old holding the character's hand while he made the "OK" symbol with his other hand, according to the lawsuit.
The child's parents, Rodriguez and Geisy Moreno, are now suing Universal along with the Zingers. Both sets of parents are seeking unspecified damages for intentionally inflicting emotional distress, violating the Florida Civil Rights Law and other allegations.
What Does the White Power Symbol Mean?
The "white power" hand gesture, which resembles the initials W and P, is popular among "people across several segments of the right and far-right," according to the Anti-Defamation League and the movement associated with the gesture, called "Operation O-KKK," was reportedly started on the anonymous message board platform 4chan in 2017.
Neo-Nazis, Ku Klux Klansmen and other white nationalists have been known to use the gesture in public "to signal their presence and to spot potential sympathizers and recruits," the New York Times reported in 2019.
The hand gesture is now being used as an expression of white supremacy. For instance, white supremacist Brenton Tarrant flashed the symbol during a March 2019 courtroom appearance for allegedly killing 50 people in a shooting spree at mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand.
Was it the Same Employee?
Universal declined to give the attorney details on the terminated employee's identity, or if it was multiple people dressed as Gru during the two incidents, Riddle said.
When asked if she thought the character may have posed with additional children beyond the two known cases, Riddle said, "It certainly causes serious concern when you see the exact same dress character doing this over very distinct periods of time."
"One of the first and foremost things we wanted was to know the identity of the employee who was doing this. Universal did not give that information to us, so now, one method we can use to get that information is through the lawsuit. They forced us to do that," Riddle said.