A Sikh family from Alameda and a Muslim family from Sunnyvale have alleged that they were barred from riding go-karts at a Livermore amusement park last summer because of their religious head attire.
The Muslim family filed a discrimination complaint last Tuesday with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing and the Sikh family said it plans to file a complaint with the state agency later this week.
Zahra Billoo, a spokeswoman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), which hosted a news conference on the allegations at its office in Santa Clara on Tuesday, said the complaints are the first steps toward possible lawsuits against the Boomers amusement park in Livermore, where both incidents allegedly occurred.
Samar Migbel, a civil rights coordinator for CAIR, said the families were permitted entry to the amusement park but then denied access to go-kart riders after employees cited what he described as "unfounded safety concerns."
Migbel said Boomers, which is owned by Newport Beach-based Palace Entertainment, has maintained that it cannot accommodate anyone wearing a religious head covering on its rides. Migbel said the amusement park has been unable to offer any substantive proof of the safety concerns it cites as justification of what he alleged was discriminatory treatment.
Migbel said in a statement, "While safety is our priority, we ask Boomers to approach the concern over religious headgear as any other safety concern and explore alternative accommodation solutions that will allow everyone safe access to their rides."
He said, "There are larger amusement parks with far more intense rides than Boomers and they have managed to accommodate individuals wearing religious headgear, so we ask that Boomers follow in their footsteps."
Nasir Abdo of Sunnyvale filed a complaint on behalf of his daughter, Noorah Abdo, alleging that she wasn't allowed to ride on the go-kart at Boomers last Aug. 8.
Members of a Sikh family from Alameda alleged that less than two weeks earlier, on July 28, they were discriminated against when the park wouldn't let them ride go-karts wearing their traditional Sikh turbans.
Michele Wischmeyer, a spokeswoman for Palace Entertainment, the company that owns Boomers, said the headgear ban was implemented after riders at other parks around the country, which aren't owned by Palace, were injured when headscarves, hats or other loose clothing were caught in equipment.
Wischmeyer said, "Safety is our number one priority and this is a matter of safety, not racial or religious discrimination."
She said the company's headgear ban includes baseball hats, visors, cowboy hats, ties, scarves, loose clothing and necklaces.
"It's a very broad policy," Wischmeyer said.