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Universal settles race discrimination lawsuit over claims Despicable Me character made ‘OK’ symbol

Universal Orlando has settled a racial discrimination lawsuit over claims that a Despicable Me character twice created a white power “OK” symbol while standing behind a six-year-old black girl and a five-year-old Hispanic girl.

The lawsuits were filed by Tiffiney and Richard Zinger and Geisy Moreno and Joel Rodriguez over encounters with the character Gru, who was played by a different Universal worker during each of the two controversial encounters.

The two groups of parents said their children were victims of discrimination in two separate incidents in February and March 2019. The first incident took place at a Universal theme park, the second was over breakfast at a resort hotel.

The terms of the settlement reached by the parties have not been made public, reports the Orlando Sentinel. The case was closed on September 12.

The families originally sued Universal Orlando for $30,000, which was later increased to $150,000. The lawsuit was filed in Orange County, Florida. The lawsuit accused the company of violating the Florida Civil Rights Act of 1992.

The families also claimed that the performers touched their children without permission, causing emotional distress.

The two actors portraying the characters are named by Florida politics in April 2022 as Austin Walker and Joseph Saenz.

The victims were a six-year-old biracial girl, who was pictured with Saenz, and the other a five-year-old Hispanic girl, who was pictured with Walker.

One of the actors was accused of “openly and emphatically displaying a universally known and universally used hate symbol denoting white power,” the lawsuit said.

“This white power hand signal has been openly and widely used to express hatred against a segment of the population based on one’s race, color and national origin, and it has been widely and widely known for years as a hate symbol.”

One of the photos cited in the March 2019 lawsuit of the character posing with a Spanish girl is pictured above

One of the photos cited in the March 2019 lawsuit of the character posing with a Spanish girl is pictured above

A second photo cited in the lawsuit shows the character making the hand gesture with a six-year-old biracial girl in February 2019.

A second photo cited in the lawsuit shows the character making the hand gesture with a six-year-old biracial girl in February 2019.

A second photo cited in the lawsuit shows the character making the hand gesture with a six-year-old biracial girl in February 2019.

According to the Sentinel, Universal denied the allegations in court, saying their employees are well-trained and denied using a hate symbol.

A lawyer for the families, Lisa Riddle, told Florida Politics: “Obviously, these two guys either weren’t trained in it, or they ignored it. Or their supervisors are not trained or ignored.’

Saenz told Florida Politics in April 2022 that he was fired in September 2019.

He told the website: ‘The hand gesture, commonly known as the ‘circle game’ … was played at the time with the accompanist who accompanied Gru that day. It’s also a common hand gesture in character that acts as a sign that it’s okay.’

The Anti-Defamation League labeled the “OK” hand gesture in 2017 as a form of hate speech after it appeared on 4chan. The ADL’s report on the gesture says it’s mostly “completely harmless and harmless.”

The gesture gained national attention in 2018 when Republican attorney Zina Bash was accused of making symbols while sitting behind Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh during his controversial hearing.

The six-year-old biracial girl ran up to the actor dressed as Gru from one of her favorite movies “Despicable Me” and asked for a photo in February 2019.

Riddle told Florida Politics in April 2022 that the lawsuit was to ensure that Universal's actors are properly trained and supervised in the future.

Riddle told Florida Politics in April 2022 that the lawsuit was to ensure that Universal's actors are properly trained and supervised in the future.

Riddle told Florida Politics in April 2022 that the lawsuit was to ensure that Universal’s actors are properly trained and supervised in the future.

The actor put his arm around the young girl and made the hand gesture over her shoulder and let it hang, the lawsuit said.

She wanted to show the photo to her classmates, but her parents said she couldn’t because “a man did something bad to her because he didn’t like her because of her race and skin color,” the lawsuit says.

A month later, the Gru character did the same in a photo with a young Spanish girl.

The five-year-old’s family, who speaks Spanish, said the character ignored her requests for a photo while interacting with other English-speaking guests. In the end, the child’s father had to beg for a photo.

In both incidents, the lawsuit alleges that the character or park handler did nothing to stop it and is responsible.

riddle told Florida politics in April 2022, the lawsuit sought to ensure that Universal’s actors are properly trained and supervised in the future.

In October 2019, a spokesperson for Universal, Tom Schroder, told: USA today the actor of the Zinger family photo was fired.

Schroder said, “We never want our guests to experience what this family has done. This is unacceptable and we are sorry – and we are taking steps to ensure that this does not happen again.”

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