On July 2nd of this year, Madelyn Sheaffer was ultimately asked to leave Adventure Oasis Water Park in Independence, Missouri because the bottom of her bathing suit was considered to be too small by park management. She was approached by two employees originally and was asked to put on shorts to cover. After she asked to speak to a supervisor, that person backed up the employees – either cover up or leave the park.
I live nowhere near Missouri, yet this news story has crossed my path several times in the past few days. A woman in a bikini will always make headlines, but in this case, there is a fascinating debate that I find intriguing. Should she have been kicked out because her bikini was too small?
In today’s American society, we feel the need to critique what people are wearing constantly. Shows like Fashion Police, What Not To Wear and hours of red carpet footage before any awards show encourage viewers to give their feedback if an outfit looks good or not. Members of my own family will decide whether or not to watch certain shows based on what the actors are wearing. Hell, my grandmother voted for George W Bush because she thought he was better looking than John Kerry back in 2004. It’s nauseating.
If you don’t believe me about how bad our society has gotten, click on over to this article that ran in Kansas City about Madelyn getting kicked out of the water park. It will only take a minute or two. Most importantly, after reading the article go down and read the comments section below. After taking a moment to compose yourself from the madness, come on back and we will talk about the legalities of this situation.
Can management legally kick someone out of a water park for any reason? The answer is, of course, complicated. The Federal Civil Rights Act guarantees all people the right to “full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages and accommodations of any place of public accommodation, without discrimination or segregation on the grounds of race, color, religion or natural origin.”
In addition to the Federal Civil Rights act, some states have passed their own legislature that covers an even broader umbrella that guarantees that you can’t discriminate against additional items like sexual preference or unconventional dress. This is not to say that businesses don’t have any rights to run their operation in a way that they choose, as long as it stays within the letter of the law.
In July of 2007, Joshua Martin was violently beaten at a bus stop just outside of Six Flags Over Georgia. The crime was a result of gang wars that were happening in and around Six Flags located on the outskirts of Atlanta. Unfortunately, many local theme parks around the United States are used as a babysitter for parents on weekends, summer months and even after school. For the cost of an annual pass, kids stay off the streets and hang out in a park with all the amenities including food and security.
The problem is, sometimes kids will be kids and fights between schools and gangs will often break out within the park or just outside the gates. In this case Six Flags, like any business, has the right to refuse business to anyone if their clothing might provoke a fight – thus disturbing the business. Believe it or not, many local park security and front gate staff around the country are trained to look for gang symbols and have the legal right to refuse admission to anyone showing them.
So let’s get back to our water park issue. Did Adventure Oasis have the right to ask Madelyn to leave because of her skimpy bikini? If they can make a claim that it was disrupting their business? Absolutely. Generally speaking, unless otherwise posted, water parks will only approach a guest wearing a skimpy bikini only if another guest makes a complaint. Meaning, regardless of all the stares and pointing – someone needs to speak with a staff member of that park and tell them that they are uncomfortable by what someone else is wearing.
This is usually the legal loophole that many theme parks use to adhere to their family friendly guidelines. Often times the guest raising the red flag remains anonymous or doesn’t even exist! I know several park employees that I have worked with over the years who have told guests to change or cover up their clothing because the employee finds the item too revealing and make the claim that a guest made a complaint. Since they are the fashion police and protectors of the company brand – they take it upon themselves to speak to the guest in question and make them change the clothing they find offensive.
Madelyn claims there were several teenagers in the water park that day wearing the same style of bikini and no one asked them to leave. She seems to believe that because she is older park management decided that she shouldn’t be wearing it. So does that mean she has a case if she wanted to sue the water park for discrimination? If she can prove it, yes it does.
That doesn’t mean it’s a winnable case. It would help if she could prove that the other bikinis showed just as much skin as hers or that the park allows more risque ones to be worn. However, if no guest complains, generally speaking they are good to go. Many water parks have rules posted in guide maps or signage that say “No thong or inappropriate bikinis allowed”. However, even a thong bikini is somewhat up for interpretation. What Victoria’s Secret, Ujena and Wicked Weasel bikini companies consider to be a thong can be drastically different in terms of coverage.
Call me a male pig all you want, but I don’t think parks should discriminate on clothing of any kind unless it poses a threat of harm to themselves or another patron. Times change and so does fashion. The clothes that my parents wore when they were teenagers for their time were scandalous, but these days are considered prudish. One can assume that even five years from now what is considered outside the box will become the norm.
Depending on what part of the world you live in and how you were raised, your version of what is considered “family friendly” will be vastly different than someone else’s who lives in a different area than you with different beliefs and values. So why should any business have a right to tell you what is considered to be acceptable behavior and dress for your family?
This article, more than any other I have written, I seriously want your feedback. Do you think parks have a right to tell you how to dress? Do you think Madelyn should sue? Are we so far gone as a nation that all we can talk about is whether she can “pull off” that bikini vs whether she has the legal right to wear it? Leave your comments in the section below.
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