Disneyland bills itself as the "Happiest Place on Earth." And when you're a wide-eyed kid with a princess complex, a pirate obsession, or a need for short bursts of speed, it's very easy to wholeheartedly agree. But the Anaheim, Calif., amusement park is also a gigantic business that employs thousands upon thousands of eminently fallible humans. Not every mouse in the house glows of sunshine and rainbows. Here, seven rather dark allegations against the children's park and its employees:
1. The allegedly racist White Rabbit
Jason and Annelia Black used to regularly take their sons to Disneyland. But their excursion last August may be their last. While interacting with the park's costumed characters, the San Diego-area family said the White Rabbit from Alice in Wonderland acted coldly to their 6- and 9-year-old kids. The rabbit reportedly wouldn't touch the boys, and allegedly turned its back on the youngest. The Blacks, who are African-American, hung around to see if the rabbit's actions were unique to them. When a white family approached, the rabbit was supposedly warm, eager, and patient. "He started hugging him, kissing the girl, and hugging the boy, and they were white," the Blacks' 9-year-old said. The Blacks took their photos as well as photos of the other family and filed a complaint with Disneyland officials. The family said they were initially offered VIP tickets. When they turned those down, the park allegedly offered $500 in exchange for signing a confidentiality agreement, which the Blacks also refused. With no resolution, the Blacks hired a lawyer and are demanding a public apology from Disneyland and for the employee in question to be fired. Disneyland has yet to respond to the family's requests, but released a statement saying, "we carefully review all guest claims.
2. Allegedly failing to evacuate a quadriplegic
During a Nov. 27, 2009 visit, Jose Martinez, who is a quadriplegic and restricted to a wheelchair, was reportedly trapped inside the It's a Small World After All ride for 40 minutes while other visitors were evacuated. (The ride's boats stalled because of a computer glitch.) Martinez's lawsuit against the park states that while waiting for help he suffered from sudden and severe blood pressure that, for people with spinal-cord injuries, can lead to stroke or death. "It feels like an ice pick going through your temples." Martinez said. The pain was only exacerbated by the ride's wrenchingly repetitive tune, he said. Despite asking for help, Martinez reportedly wasn't able to leave until the ride started again and the boat could reach the proper exit. The suit alleges that the park violated the Americans with Disabilities Act by failing to have adequate evacuation procedures for visitors with mobility disabilities. A resort spokeswoman said at the time that the park "is accessible to guests with varying needs… If it is necessary to evacuate an attraction, we have procedures in place for all guests."
3. Reports of toxic lead on multiple rides
After conducting tests on the park over the course of a year, three environmental and health advocacy groups reportedly found high amounts of lead in 65 brass fixtures, including the popular Mr. Toad's Wild Ride and Peter Pan's flight. While not lethal, the amount of lead in brass objects including railings and chains could be harmful to children, particularly the very young. In a statement, Disney called the claims "baseless." The groups filed a lawsuit in April 2011 seeking to force the park to comply with the state's toxic-chemical notification law. Disney maintains it is not in violation of the law but could not otherwise comment specifically.
4. Allegations of religious discrimination
In 2010, Imane Boudlal wore a hijab, in observance of Ramadan, to the Disneyland restaurant where she worked. Her supervisors reportedly told her to remove it, work out of sight, or go home. Boudlal opted to go home, but returned the next two days wearing the hijab, and was allegedly told the same thing. The young woman had actually gotten permission to wear a headscarf in advance — but only one that was designed by Disneyland's costume department to comply with the company's look. She was fitted for a scarf, but reportedly was never told when it would be finished. When the holy holiday arrived and a Disney-issued hijab had not, she decided to wear her own. When she got in trouble, the 26-year-old Muslim filed a complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. A Disneyland spokeswoman said the theme park has a no-discrimination policy. She also said the resort offered Boudlal a chance to work with the head covering away from customers while Disneyland tried to find a compromise that would allow Boudlal to cover her head in a away that fit with her assigned uniform.
5. A suspected groper on the loose
In a lawsuit filed in 1997, 38-year-old Erin Rogers alleged that when she and her two sons were on the Haunted Mansion ride in a dark room, a man grabbed her breasts from behind so badly that she reportedly experienced hemorrhaging afterward. When the lights went on, Rogers noticed a man leering at her. She approached him by saying, "I know that was you in the dark," her lawyer said. Rogers called security officers who later arrested the man. Afterward, security officers reportedly told Rogers that they had another report earlier in the day of the same man doing the same thing in the same place. In her lawsuit, Rogers accused Disneyland of "failing to take any precautionary steps to prevent the harm done to her." Disneyland officials apparently had no comment at the time.
6. Evidence of an accident: Erased
On the day before Christmas in 1999, 33-year-old Disneyland tourist Luan Phil Dawson was fatally struck in the head by an 8-pound cleat — a piece of metal used for securing boats. His wife and a Disneyland employee were also injured. The park reportedly did not alert police, but did immediately contact paramedics. Within 30 minutes, employees had allegedly cleaned the blood and debris from the scene before investigators could examine it. Police learned of the incident from the paramedics and arrived 40 minutes after Dawson was struck. Technically, Disneyland did nothing illegal, but the event angered critics who said it was just another example of the park doing something shady to protect its image, with some going as far as to accuse the park of neglecting to protect its guests. A park spokesman said the mess was given such quick attention because of its prominent location and due to the unusual holiday crowd.
7. Allegations of air pollution
In 1987, California air management officials filed a lawsuit against Disneyland alleging the park violated 13 state air-pollution rules. The alleged violations mainly surrounded maintenance operations, including the park's gasoline equipment, as well as the park's tram, which had allegedly not been properly maintained since September 1986. Air quality officials said the park's violations did not pose an immediate threat to anybody, rather "just contributes to a smoggier day at Disneyland." The park faced fines of $10,000 per day. Disneyland officials had no official comment at the time.
Sources: CBS News, Disney Digest, International Business Times, Los Angeles Times (2), Orange County Register, The Spokesman Review