Teen With Autism Kicked Out Of Movie Theater After Using Bathroom With Mom, Lawsuit Says
The evening was supposed to be a special one for Christine Gallinaro and her son. They had tickets for Disney’s “Elemental” at Showtimes at Cinemark Hazlet 12 in Monmouth County, N.J.
Gallinaro’s son, who is 15 years old, is nonverbal and has autism. He loves watching most movies until the end, often insisting they stay in the theater until the final credits are rolling, his mother said.
But, what was intended as a fun Friday night out instead turned dramatic when police were called to remove the mother and son from the theater on June 16, according to a lawsuit filed last week in Superior Court of Monmouth County.
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The incident began when Gallinaro’s son needed to use the bathroom and she took him into the women’s restroom. There is no family restroom at the Cinemark in Hazlet, N.J., according to the lawsuit.
“My son is not equipped to go into a men’s bathroom in a public setting alone,” Gallinaro told NJ Advance Media. “I took him to the women’s bathroom.”
There were other women in the restroom, some of them mothers, she said.
“Right away, they see he’s with me. They pick up why he’s in the bathroom with me,” she said, noting that she noticed one woman “looking at me smiling.”
The 59-year-old manager of the movie theater wasn’t as understanding, the suit alleges.
The manager angrily approached and “shouted blatantly discriminatory remarks” toward the mother and the 15-year-old, the lawsuit alleges.
“A grown man should not be in the women’s restroom,” the manager said in the crowded lobby, according to the suit. “This is not a transgender bathroom.”
Even though there were no other complaints, the manager allegedly ordered the Gallinaros off the property and directed an assistant manager to call the police, the suit states.
The manager headed to another part of the theater and the Gallinaros had no further interactions with her, according to the suit.
When police arrived, Gallinaro started recording on her cell phone.
“I don’t agree with what she did,” the assistant manager says on the video, referring to the manager’s actions. “But you’re causing a disturbance, so leave.”
Moments later, a police officer confirmed to Gallinaro that she and her son had to leave the property.
The officer can be heard off camera telling Gallinaro that the movie theater is a private business and its employees can remove customers if they don’t want them there.
The discrimination lawsuit names the Hazlet theater, along with Cinemark USA, the manager, the assistant manager and others associated with the business.
A woman who answered the phone last week at the Hazlet movie theater said the manager was not immediately available to comment. A spokesperson for Cinemark’s corporate office did not return calls and emails seeking comment.
R. Armen McOmber, an attorney for the Gallinaros, called the theater manager’s behavior “outrageous and unlawful.”
“Ms. Gallinaro’s 15-year-old son, who is diagnosed with autism and severe speech delays, was traumatized by blatantly discriminatory conduct on the part of defendants … simply because he needed to use the bathroom while seeing a movie with his mother,” McOmber said in a statement.
After police were called, workers attempted to refund the Gallinaros’ tickets but were unable to process the transaction, the suit says.
The workers instead offered free movie passes, “but took zero action to address defendants’ transparently harassing and discriminatory conduct toward plaintiffs,” the suit says.
The lawsuit alleges violations of the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination, disparate treatment, a hostile environment due to disability, negligence and intentional infliction of emotional distress.
The conduct of those in charge that night “goes beyond all possible bounds of decency and is regarded as atrocious and utterly intolerable in a civilized society,” the suit says.
Charlsey Sheib, a school psychologist at St. Benedict’s Preparatory School in Newark, said it’s not uncommon for a 15-year-old with autism to be unable to use a public restroom on their own.
Sheib, who does not have personal knowledge of the Hazlet case, said theaters should have family restrooms that can be used by people of any gender.
“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 of the Gallinaros’ case.
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