The Walt Disney Co. is suing Florida in a showdown between the state’s largest employer and its governor, just a week after Disney regained the upper hand in a battle over utilities.
Disney filed a lawsuit against Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis on April 26, alleging that the politician has embarked on a “relentless campaign to weaponize government power” against the company. The suit cites the controversy surrounding DeSantis threatening to withdraw Disney’s special district, which includes Disney World, after the company eventually spoke out against the Florida Republicans’ “Don’t Say Gay” bill (after Disney admitted $100,000 given to the sponsor of the bill before they changed their mind). .
The suit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida, alleges that DeSantis oversaw a campaign to punish Walt Disney Co. for his political views; DeSantis is said to have sought “every step of the way” to destroy Disney’s foothold in Florida, where it is the state’s largest employer with more than 75,000 employees. Disney CEO Bob Iger called DeSantis’ actions “anti-Florida” and “anti-business.”
“A targeted campaign of government retaliation — orchestrated by Governor DeSantis at every turn to punish Disney’s protected speech — now threatens Disney’s business, threatens its economic future in the region, and violates its constitutional rights. Today’s action is the latest strike: At the governor’s behest, the state’s oversight board is allegedly “voiding” the publicly noticed and duly approved development contracts that laid the foundation for Disney’s billions of dollars in investment and thousands of jobs. This government action was patently retaliatory, patently anti-business, and patently unconstitutional. But the governor and his allies have made it clear they don’t care and they won’t stop.”
The Florida attorney, who spoke to IndieWire on the condition of anonymity, has not yet reviewed the details of the case, but said in general terms of the ongoing battle that “this is an unequal application of the law by the governor. Municipalities routinely designate certain parcels of land for special management by companies and other legal entities.”
“I can’t think about it,” the lawyer added. “The party that keeps invoking the First Amendment, which is about free speech, is the first to silence any criticism. It would be funny if it weren’t so dangerous to the structure of our country. Amazing.”
DeSantis and the state Legislature passed a bill in February 2023 to change the name of Disney’s Reedy Creek development district, but Disney’s 11th-hour move appears to have resulted in the company effectively retaining control of the area for the foreseeable future.