Former 'Lion King' aerial performer sues Disney, says she was fired because of pregnancy

By Emilee Speck - Digital journalist, Troy Campbell - Reporter

ORLANDO, Fla. - A former aerial dancer in a "Lion King" performance at Disney's Animal Kingdom filed a civil right lawsuit against Disney Parks after she said she was fired for becoming pregnant with twins.

The lawsuit filed July 9 in Orange County Circuit Court against Walt Disney Parks and Resorts and Disney Worldwide Services alleges that the company discriminated against Krista Crowder for being a woman and a mother and violated her civil rights by firing her after she took time off for her pregnancy.

Crowder is seeking more than $15,000 in damages.

"There was no thought in my mind that I would not be able to return," Crowder said.

Crowder started working for Disney Parks as a dancer in August 2011 and was promoted to equity performer at Disney in January 2013. She started working as a harness and flight performer in May 2013 in the "Festival of Lion King" performance at Disney's Animal Kingdom, according to the lawsuit.

The expectant mother had to leave work in November 2015 due to pregnancy. She wasn't cleared by her doctor to workout until September 2016. In August 2016, Crowder received a letter from Disney Parks terminating her employment.

"They were like, 'Disregard it. It's, it's something that's automatically sent out after you haven't been in show in a while,'" Crowder said.

Crowder said she asked if it was a mistake and was told by her former stage manager in October 2016 that she would need to audition again.

The audition requirement was against Disney Parks protocol, according to the lawsuit, which should have only required a costume fitting and a rehearsal.

"They called me and said, 'We need you to come in and audition,' and that is not the protocol," Crowder said.

Crowder auditioned anyway and was later called by a Disney manager and told she was being dropped because the stage "no longer needed (her)." The manager told her that the decision was made because Crowder was out 11 months.

Crowder's attorney said she was off for almost a year because for seven months she was pregnant and for two months she was medically restricted from performing her job. For the last two months, Crowder was retraining to return to work.

The same employee told Crowder that the stage had removed the dance from the performer list four months into her pregnancy.

In November 2016, Crowder was sent another termination letter and then again, Disney Parks sent a letter with an official termination date of Sept. 2, 2017.

Crowder said that to her knowledge, Disney never allowed any mother to perform her position with the Animal Kingdom show.

Crowder's attorney alleges that Disney disregarded her civil rights and that her pregnancy and status as a mother was a contributing factor to her being let go.

In response to the lawsuit, Disney said, "We have a longstanding policy against workplace discrimination and we will respond to the allegations, as appropriate, in court."

"I would like it to become a place for women to be able to leave, have their babies, recover and get themselves back in shape and have their job without it being this crazy fight," Crowder said.

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