A group of patrons who say they were thrown out of a Manheim Township pool for wearing skimpy bathing suits earlier this month have sued the municipality in federal court, alleging discrimination based on the "complexion of their skin."
The Black and Latino parents say the manager of Skyline Pool “weaponized” the police department against their families and allege she made a racist comment about the teens being able to wear the suits “when they go back to Venezuela.”
“While a sign at the entrance of the Skyline swimming pool states that ‘proper’ bathing suits are required and that ‘cheeky bikini bottoms’ are prohibited, these rules are selectively enforced only against minor female and/or African American, Latino and/or Hispanic customers of the pool,” the lawsuit alleges.
The plaintiffs are seeking in excess of $150,000 in damages, according to the lawsuit.
Brian Mildenberg, one of the lawyers representing the families, says he looks forward to his clients “having their day in court to prove their allegations against the pool” and ensure that “discriminatory actions do not occur in the future,” especially to people of color.
Manheim Township commissioners Tom O’Brien and Barry Kauffman said they were unaware of the lawsuit, filed in Philadelphia on July 10, and declined to comment. The three other commissioners, President Sam Mecum, Donna DiMeo and Carol Gifford, did not immediately respond to a request for comment Friday.
The lawsuit was filed amid the ongoing national conversation about racism and how Black Americans and other people of color are treated by police and other authorities. The suit challenges aspects of the police department’s description of the events that day, July 3, and the township’s policies on handling such issues.
In response to widespread criticism, the township said earlier this week it is requiring managers and staff who deal with the public to take part in racial and ethnic sensitivity training and to training on how to “de-escalate and defuse situations that may have potential for intimidation and violence.”
Attempts to reach the pool manager, Kristal Narkiewicz, have been unsuccessful. She is named as a defendant in the suit.
A witness previously told LNP|LancasterOnline that the manager instructed two teenage girls — one Puerto Rican and the other African American and Venezuelan — to either change their bikini bottoms or leave the pool. The girls complied with the request; they went home and changed.
It is unclear what, specifically, prompted the pool staff to call police.
The police chief has said the department’s officers responded to a “disturbance in progress involving staff and a guest” on the afternoon of July 3. The mother of one of the girls had approached the pool manager to find out why her daughter had been asked to leave.
The plaintiffs allege the manager called the police because the girls’ bathing suits were too skimpy, and not because of the conversation between the manager and the mother.
In addition, the lawsuit alleges the pool manager "summoned and weaponized the Manheim Township Police Department to remove the Plaintiffs from the premises, who then escorted the Plaintiffs out of the Skyline swimming pool under armed guard, as if they had committed a criminal act.”
In a prepared statement to LNP|LancasterOnline on July 6, Manheim Township Police Chief Thomas Rudzinski stated merely that "Officers mediated the dispute and the guest left."
The lawsuit further challenges the township’s statement that employees of its Recreation and Park Planning Department “enforce the same pool rules for all patrons.”
Several white girls at the pool wore “virtually identical” swimsuit bottoms on the same day, the lawsuit alleges. In other instances, other white patrons were “written up” for similar dress but did not have pool privileges revoked, the lawsuit claims.
The families allege they were denied swimming privileges and have been banned from all other township pools for the rest of the season.
The suit alleges that Narkiewicz, asked by a white patron about refunding the membership fees to the families, responded: “Oh no, I’m sure they were just dailies,” implying the families wouldn’t have purchased or couldn’t have afforded seasonal memberships to the pool, which cost several hundred dollars a family.
The suit alleges Narkiewicz remarked that the Latino family could wear their swim suit bottoms “when they go back to Venezuela.”
The lawsuit also seeks class action status "on behalf of the minor children victims of defendant Manheim Township’s savage and uncivilized acts of racial discrimination."
Blanding Watson, president of the Lancaster NAACP, said his branch had received several written complaints about Skyline and are investigating. The NAACP continues to receive calls related to the incident, he said.