The Happiest Place On Earth, Not So Much

Max Fisher at The Atlantic with the round-up. Fisher:

A 27-year-old Pennsylvania woman is suing Walt Disney Parks and Resorts, alleging that she was sexual assaulted by a Disney employee dressed up as Donald Duck. She says the incident took place at Disney World in 2008 and that it caused her post-traumatic stress disorder. Her $50,000 lawsuit, which says Donald Duck grabbed her breast then “made gestures making a joke indicating he had done something wrong,” contends negligence, battery, and infliction of emotional distress. But how likely is it that this is legitimate? Observers are looking at the details of the case, and at Disney’s history, to evaluate her case.

The Smoking Gun:

While visiting Epcot Center in Florida, a Pennsylvania woman alleges that a Disney employee dressed as Donald Duck grabbed her breast and molested her after she sought an autograph.

After the alleged groping, Donald Duck made gestures–apparently with his snowy white hands—“indicating he had done something wrong,” according to a lawsuit filed last month by April Magolon. The Upper Darby woman, 27, was visiting Epcot with her children and fiancé in May 2008 when the incident reportedly occurred.

Magolon, pictured at right, is suing Disney for negligence, battery, and infliction of emotional distress, and is seeking in excess of $50,000 in damages. The entertainment giant has petitioned to have the lawsuit, which was filed in Pennsylvania’s Court of Common Pleas, transferred to federal court in Philadelphia.

According to Magolon’s complaint, she has suffered “severe physical injury, emotional anguish and distress including, but not limited to post-traumatic stress disorder” as a result of the run-in with Donald Duck. She also contends that the incident was “one of a long line of continuing, long standing, similar prior incidents” involving the groping of patrons by costumed Disney employees.

Perez Hilton:

Yeah, we’ve heard some pretty crazy things about those freaks in the costumes, but most of the time, we’ve also heard they can’t see a thing out of those giant heads! Maybe it was just a misunderstanding.

Then again, Donald Duck always has seemed a bit shifty to us!

Maureen O’Connor at Gawker:

The legal papers includes a helpful list of other Disney character transgressions, like the time Tigger molested a 13-year-old girl. In other news, a guy just wrote a memoir about dealing drugs while costumed as Winnie the Pooh at Epcot, and how his co-workers were furries who liked to have kinky sex in their costumes. (And he’s not the first Disney character to dish: a former Disneyland Pluto wrote a play a few years back about much the same stuff.)

William Saletan at Slate:

Is Donald Duck a pervert?

Gawker seems to think so. Yesterday evening, it posted an item asking: “Who are the strange people in the furry costumes at Disney World, and are they pervs? After Donald Duck grabbed her boob, a 27-year-old is suing Disney.” The woman’s complaint, according to Gawker, “includes a helpful list of other Disney character transgressions, like the time Tigger molested a 13-year-old girl. … Moral of the story: Men who wear masks are not to be trusted.”

Readers of the item soon began posting their own allegations. One recalled: “When I was in High School the Shamu at the Sea World in Ohio freaked me out. He kept giving me these big bear hugs that were really hard and rough. He also kept my face covered with his fins while he was doing this. Very creepy. I can understand why this lady was totally offended.” Another agreed: “Similar experience in high school with a crash test dummy at Disney (near the test track). Creepy.” A third added: “When my family visited Magic Mountain in the 70s, a horny person dressed up as a grape pinched my dad’s ass and then scampered away.” A fourth wrote: “UGH! I remember going to Disney with my brother and sister. I was like 16 and they were like 12 and 10—so I was confused that all the characters seemed to want to kiss ME on the cheek and hug ME more than my siblings.”

We’ve seen this pattern before: an allegation of groping, followed by a bunch of other people recalling similar abuse. The initial charge makes the rest of the claims credible. But sometimes the allegations, and even the triggered memories, are false. That’s what happened to Tigger. Don’t let it happen to Donald.

Gawker bases its description of the Tigger case—”the time Tigger molested a 13-year-old girl”—on the complaint against Donald, which was posted yesterday by the Smoking Gun. The complaint alleges:

9. This incident is one of a long line of continuing, long standing, similar prior incidents that have occurred on Defendant’s various resort premises. …
10. Authorities in Florida received 24 more complaints in the week since a Walt Disney World employee was charged with molesting a 13-year-old girl and her mother while dressed as the character ‘Tigger’ in 2004.
11. Numerous of those cases were deemed credible enough to be investigated by the Orange County Sherriff’s office.
12. One of Defendant’s employees, Michael Chartrand, was arrested and charged with one count of lewd and lascivious molestation of a child and one count of simple battery.
13. In that case the sheriff’s office received a complaint that the costumed character had touched the girl and her mother inappropriately while their pictures were being taken.
14. According to an incident report, Chartrand fondled the breasts of the girl and her mother while posing for pictures at the Magic Kingdom’s Toon Town.
15. Despite knowledge of these continuing, long standing, similar prior incidents, the Defendant failed to act to ensure the incidents would cease. …

Hmmm. Incident reports, charges, investigations—so how did the case turn out? Since the complaint against Donald curiously omits this part, and since Gawker didn’t bother to look it up, let’s check it out ourselves. Answer: Chartrand was acquitted. The case seems to have been a total scam. The girl’s mother planned to sue Disney for money and lied to prosecutors about her plans. The cops conned Chartrand into writing an apology to the girl even though he had no memory of her, much less groping her. The girl’s stepfather testified that nothing untoward had happened. At trial, the defense attorney put on the Tigger outfit to show jurors how severely it limited its occupant’s vision and range of motion, making the alleged groping impossible.

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