A mother has filed a discrimination lawsuit after she and her teenage son, who has autism, were kicked out of a cinema after she took him into the women’s toilets, because the manager allegedly thought the boy was transgender.
Christine Gallinaro and her 15-year-old son visited the Cinemark Hazlet 12, in Monmouth County, in the US state of New Jersey, to see Disney’s Elemental, on 16 June.
The lawsuit states that police were called to remove the pair after Gallinaro took her son into the women’s toilets because there was no family one at the cinema, according to NJ Advance Media.
The lawsuit makes various allegations, including discrimination, negligence, intentional emotional distress and a hostile environment due to disability, it was reported.
Gallinaro said her son, who has autism and is non-verbal, “is not equipped to go into a men’s bathroom in a public setting alone”.
She added that other people in the toilets: “Right away… [picked] up why he’s in the bathroom with me.”
However, the lawsuit alleges, the theatre’s manager approached them in the cinema’s crowded lobby, shouting “blatantly discriminatory remarks”, including “a grown man should not be in the women’s restroom” and “this is not a transgender bathroom”.
He then told an assistant manager to call the police, the lawsuit claims.
NJ Advance Media reported Gallinaro started recording on her phone once the police arrived, and, in the video, the assistant manager could be heard saying they “don’t agree with what she [the manager] did… but you’re causing a disturbance, so leave”.
Staff offered them free movie passes after being unable to process a refund, once police arrived. However, the lawsuit says they “took zero action to address [the] defendants’ transparently harassing and discriminatory conduct toward [the] plaintiffs”.
‘Traumatised by blatantly discriminatory conduct’
A lawyer for the Gallinaros, R. Ramen McOmber, said the theatre manager’s behaviour was “outrageous and unlawful”.
Gallinaro’s son was left “traumatised by blatantly discriminatory conduct… simply because he needed to use the bathroom”, he added.
Neither the cinema manager nor Cinemark’s corporate office responded to NJ Advance Media’s requests for comment. PinkNews has also attempted to contact Cinemark.
A New Jersey school psychologist, Charlsey Sheib, told the news outlet that it was not uncommon for a teenager with autism to be unable to use public toilets on their own.
“If no customers complained about it, I don’t think it had to be taken to that level where the police were called and he had to be kicked out,” Sheib said.
The discrimination lawsuit names the Hazlet Theater, along with Cinemark USA, the manager, the assistant manager and others associated with the business.