Autopia Getting a Honda Refresh

by David Koenig, contributing writer
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Autopia Getting a Honda Refresh

Despite rumors earlier this year that, with the addition of a new Star Wars Land, Disneyland’s Autopia and adjacent lagoon would go the way of the Viewliner, it now looks like the Star Wars invasion will help guarantee at least several more years of Tomorrowland’s only Opening Day attraction.

The complete Star Wars/Marvel takeover of the Tomorrowland’s carousel building that opens November 16 forced out the last remaining sponsor of Innoventions: American Honda Motor Company. But since Disneyland wanted to keep Honda happy and extend its now-10-year-old, multi-resort sponsorship deal with the car company, Honda was instead offered sponsorship of Autopia.

To promote the Honda connection, the Autopia buildings will be repainted white, blue and silver, and the digital signage will change. The cars and track will stay the same.

Autopia is not yet listed on park refurbishment schedules, but—although the changeover will be very noticeable—it won’t require too extended of a rehab, a godsend for the park considering all the other capacity that will be lost for a full year to allow construction of the 14-acre Star Wars Land behind Frontierland.

Honda also sponsors Disneyland’s nightly fireworks shows, its Grad Nites, and, not so coincidentally, the Autopia at Hong Kong Disneyland. It’s also the Disneyland Resort’s official Car, Motorcycle and Select Power Equipment company.

Longer Distance Parking

Cast members are getting increasingly cranky about having to park miles away from Disneyland and be shuttled to and from the resort. On especially busy days, employees accustomed to parking at the Katella Cast Member Lot (KCML) have had to park at Angel Stadium at least 16 times so far this year.

To make matters worse, Disneyland reportedly has struck a deal to also allow visitors to the Anaheim Convention Center to park at KCML during heavily attended events. Evidently, Disney could charge the convention center parkers far more than they would in turn have to pay to rent spaces at the stadium.

One cast member heard that this could mean workers would be redirected to park further off-site up to 100 times next year. “It just reinforces our belief that cast members are not valued and are second-class citizens,” he said.

[Editors note: Cast members are being informed that they are being sent to park at Angels Stadium this Friday and Saturday due to the Avengers Half Marathon Weekend races.]

The Case of the Troubled Transgender

After spending years researching my new book The People v. Disneyland: How Lawsuits & Lawyers Transformed the Magic (it makes the perfect holiday gift!), I thought I’d heard them all—but two pretty unique cases have been filed recently, and both plaintiffs are looking to you to help with their expenses.

In the first, a former cast member has launched a Go Fund Me campaign to pay for her lawsuit alleging Disneyland discriminated against and terminated her because she is transgender. In a 34-page filing, the lawsuit explains that the plaintiff spent three years in the U.S. Navy, attaining the rank of petty officer third class prior to her transition. After being discharged in late 2002, she legally changed her name to Alyssa Nguyen and was issued a new driver's license with her new name, and which listed her gender as female.

In 2006, Alyssa was hired as a merchandise hostess at Disney California Adventure. During the entire time, she dressed in ways appropriate to her female identity, including adhering to Disney's female grooming standards of wearing her hair longer and wearing earrings, which are not permitted for male cast members.

Outwardly, the company seemed to approve, by assigning her a female uniform, although she was passed over several times for promotions. Her allegations recount many complaints, from co-workers nosily asking about whether she was a woman or man, to guests mocking her for wearing women’s clothing. According to her lawsuit, for example:

  • Guests pointied out that Alyssa was “a girl’s name,” or asked if that was her real name.
  • Others referred to her as “he,” “him,” “it,” or “the man who wears women’s clothing.”
  • A co-worker (who got a promotion to trainer that Nguyen applied for) “enforced gender roles on theme park visitors who were minors,” such as discouraging boys from selecting princess merchandise or from using a pink ribbon when having their headwear personalized.

Several interactions with guests or co-workers escalated, and Alyssa ended up receiving multiple warnings and suspensions.

She also sought and received several transfers between DCA, Disneyland, and Downtown Disney to escape the hostile work environments.

Ironically one of her biggest issues had nothing to do with her gender identity, but with the embroidery machine at the Los Feliz Five & Dime shop. Alyssa had been trained one way and it drove her crazy to see co-workers operate the equipment “in a manner contrary to Disneyland Resort embroidery training and manufacturer specifications.”

As well, she thought the store used way too many cans of compressed air, which she considered a health, environmental, and explosion hazard.

During this time, she began to worry about her stress levels and mental health due to co-workers’ “continued failure to adhere to established embroidery procedures and (management’s) inaction.” Alyssa began taking medical leave, and her late-shows and absences piled up until, on March 14, 2014, she was dismissed.

Alyssa enlisted an attorney to convince Disney to settle, but the company refused. So on her own, she filed suit for discrimination, harassment, failure to accommodate, retaliation, and wrongful termination. She expected to encounter about $8,000 in legal fees, so she turned to crowdfunding. In four months, her campaign to raise $8,000 has collected a combined $295 from six donors, half of them anonymous.

The Case of the Panicky Passholder

Carole Waddell was a devoted Disney fan who owned a Disneyland seasonal pass, despite living more than 100 miles away from the park. In 2003, she was diagnosed with acute anxiety and depression. A psychologist recommended and prescribed a service dog, which could act as a calming force for her in public and could be trained to sense the onset of a panic attack.

Waddell got a beagle she named Bagel and had him licensed as a service dog. The dog “assisted in keeping her depression and anxiety down to a manageable level so she could go outside and carry on her life.” With Bagel at her side, she was able to enjoy regular trips to the park, despite the crowds.

Unfortunately, in April 2014, Bagel was diagnosed with cancer and given a few months to live. On July 20, 2014, Carole packed up Bagel for one last trip to Disneyland, followed by a night at the Disneyland Hotel. They never got that far. At the Main Gate, as she was tucking her dying dog into a stroller, a cast member told them they’d have to leave. Waddell explained that Bagel was a service dog and reached to show its registration papers. The host refused to look at them and said the dog was actually a “therapy dog,” which was not entitled to the same legal protections.

As Waddell began walking back through Downtown Disney to her car, she felt a panic attack coming on. Fortunately, with ailing Bagel’s assistance, she made it back to her car. Barely. Shortly after exiting the lot, she blacked out. She woke up the next morning in a parking lot in Fullerton with no recollection of how she’d gotten there. Knowing that she was in no shape to drive home, she found a nearby Holiday Inn, where “the manager took her under his wing and gave her and Bagel a room to rest and eat and gather her wits.” She drove home the next morning. Four days later, Bagel was dead.

Waddell was devastated; “her assistant dog’s last visit to Disneyland was short-circuited by an overzealous, misinformed employee of the park.” She had to undergo additional therapy sessions to overcome the trauma and it took nearly a year before she was able to return to Disneyland, accompanied by a friend, since she was afraid she’d be attacked once again.

Right after arriving on May 27, 2015, she headed for City Hall to obtain a disability pass. There, the host interrogated her so mercilessly she almost suffered another panic attack. He “kept asking why she needed the pass, what happens when she became unstable or anxious, what happens if she is in line,” and so forth, until she finally screamed, “I BLACK OUT!” He reluctantly handed her a pass. But by then her day had essentially been “ruined by the cast member’s rude and illegal behavior.”

Waddell, too, filed suit and turned to You Caring Compassionate Crowdfunding for help. In five months, her campaign has generated a combined $314 from nine donors, to help train the newest member of her family, Storm, to become a PTSD service dog.

My suspicion is, no matter how many dozens of dollars these plaintiffs are able to raise, Mickey will win once again.

Comments

  1. By olegc

    on the two lawsuits - they are interesting to me in that in each case the plaintiff is essentially asking for special dispensation based on unique circumstances. I foresee many more transgender cases in the same way other discrimination cases for gender, race, etc. have been coming. It will take a few years before a common model of what is or is not a claim becomes established.

    In the case of the service animal - that's a place Disney should avoid making decisions on what is or is not a service animal or a therapy animal. If the person has papers, no matter if you think they bent the rules, then you have to go with it. I see a settlement in this case but it will take a while.

  2. By Alyssa3467

    Quote Originally Posted by olegc View Post
    on the two lawsuits - they are interesting to me in that in each case the plaintiff is essentially asking for special dispensation based on unique circumstances. I foresee many more transgender cases in the same way other discrimination cases for gender, race, etc. have been coming. It will take a few years before a common model of what is or is not a claim becomes established.

    In the case of the service animal - that's a place Disney should avoid making decisions on what is or is not a service animal or a therapy animal. If the person has papers, no matter if you think they bent the rules, then you have to go with it. I see a settlement in this case but it will take a while.

    It probably would be unwise for me to discuss pending litigation on a public forum such as this one. =P

    Regarding the other case, ADA is quite specific on what constitutes a service animal (must be a dog or a miniature horse, and must perform a task. Animals that solely provide emotional support are not service animals and do not get the same accommodations) and what questions may be asked of a service animal's handler. Having documentation is not among the requirements or things that may be asked.

  3. By adriennek

    Quote Originally Posted by olegc View Post
    In the case of the service animal - that's a place Disney should avoid making decisions on what is or is not a service animal or a therapy animal. If the person has papers, no matter if you think they bent the rules, then you have to go with it. I see a settlement in this case but it will take a while.

    Oh I REALLY hope they DO NOT settle this one. Nope nope nope nope. I'm so tired of people holding businesses hostage with ignorance of the law and just calling their pets service animals. I'm not saying that this woman did that originally - she supposedly had documentation that the dog at one point provided a service, I don't know if it was actually a trained dog or not. But, keep reading.

    1. Emotional Support animals are not covered by the ADA. Period.

    2. A terminally ill dog in a stroller is not a working service animal. Even if the dog was, at one point, a trained service animal. Service animals can and do become too old or sick to work, just like people do.

    3. No. Businesses do not have to go with it. And, to my mind, the thing I see is that people with their pets threaten employees who either do not know what the law says or are not empowered by their employers to say no. Or even if they're legally allowed to say no, people who are in an unreasonable circumstance will sue anyway, costing the businesses money and time. Then they settle to make these nuisance lawsuits go away and we're all subjected to untrained animals in public.

    Just like the woman who was holding her dog at my grocery store, leaning over the TOMATOES in the produce department, and her animal's fur and feet were totally touching the fresh produce. HOLY HEALTH DEPARTMENT VIOLATION, BATMAN!

    I know, I'm a little hot about this one. This isn't my most graciously worded post. I'm capable of better. I'm full of the flame bait today. But a person who is needing a service animal for anxiety, to my mind, isn't setting herself up for success taking a terminally ill animal in a stroller to Disneyland. She's taking advantage and making it harder for everyone, including individuals with legitimately trained service animals.

    I hope Disney stands up to her.

  4. By stan4d_steph

    Quote Originally Posted by olegc View Post
    In the case of the service animal - that's a place Disney should avoid making decisions on what is or is not a service animal or a therapy animal. If the person has papers, no matter if you think they bent the rules, then you have to go with it. I see a settlement in this case but it will take a while.

    Except that just having papers doesn't mean anything. You can pay a service online and receive "papers" for a dog. It's a problem, and I don't envy business owners. People can take advantage of a business wanting to avoid a scene or lawsuit by insisting an animal is a service animal when in fact it has not been trained to act as one.

    The ADA has an FAQ that addresses some of these issues and questions for business owners.

  5. By olegc

    I see all your points, and probably some of the info has not been completely shared. If all of her documentation was valid then there may be a reason to settle. If u fight and win, great, but doesn't that also set a precedent where a business can challenge an approved support practice or program? (I am being very general here intentionally).

  6. By hashiprincess

    The only "valid" documentation for a support animal is a doctor's note. There's no official registration. Additionally, the only legal rights a support dog gets involve housing and public transportation.

    I have a support dog. I would never think to take him to Disneyland. He is my emotional companion at home and, with special permission, at work. There's a big difference between support dog and service dog.

  7. By hashiprincess

    On the Autopia side of things.... as much as I love the history of opening day rides, I wish they would stop using that as a reason not to update them. There are so many ways to keep Autopia but update it to be more futuristic.

  8. By Jimbo996

    I was hoping the Autopia gets a hybrid or electric car makeover. The gas motor is very stinky and appears to not have any pollution control mechanisms.

    It's too bad employee parking is bad and getting worse. It's time to get a new parking structure. I can't believe Disney has sold more parking spaces to the Convention Center. What a ridiculous situation.

    As for the lawsuits, WOW. Not good at all.

  9. By stan4d_steph

    Quote Originally Posted by Jimbo996 View Post
    I was hoping the Autopia gets a hybrid or electric car makeover. The gas motor is very stinky and appears to not have any pollution control mechanisms.

    Disneyland Paris is converting to hybrid cars, so maybe they will integrate that into the domestic parks too.

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