The Walt Disney Co. is suing Florida in an unfolding face-off between the state’s largest employer and its governor, just a week after Disney seemed to get the upper hand once again in a battle over utility rates.
Disney filed a lawsuit April 26 against Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis alleging that the politician has embarked on a “relentless campaign to weaponize government power” against the conglomerate. The lawsuit cites the controversy over DeSantis threatening to revoke Disney’s special district encompassing Disney World because the company ultimately spoke out against Florida Republicans’ “Don’t Say Gay” bill (after Disney admittedly gave $100,000 to the bill’s sponsor before their change of heart).
The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the North District of Florida, claims that DeSantis oversaw a campaign to punish Walt Disney Co. over its political views; DeSantis allegedly “orchestrated at every step” to destroy Disney’s footing in Florida, where it is the state’s largest employer, with a staff of over 75,000. Disney CEO Bob Iger has called DeSantis’s actions “anti-Florida” and “anti-business.”
“A targeted campaign of government retaliation — orchestrated at every step by Governor DeSantis as punishment for Disney’s protected speech — now threatens Disney’s business operations, jeopardizes its economic future in the region, and violates its constitutional rights. Today’s action is the latest strike: At the Governor’s bidding, the State’s oversight board has purported to ‘void’ publicly noticed and duly agreed development contracts, which had laid the foundation for billions of Disney’s investment dollars and thousands of jobs. This government action was patently retaliatory, patently anti-business, and patently unconstitutional. But the Governor and his allies have made clear they do not care and will not stop.”
A Florida lawyer speaking to IndieWire on terms of anonymity had not yet looked at the specifics of the case, but said in general about the ongoing battle that “this is an unequal application of the law by the governor. Municipalities routinely designate certain parcels of land to be under the special management of corporations and other entities.”
“I can’t wrap my mind around it,” the attorney added. “The party that constantly invokes the First Amendment, that says they are about free speech, is the first to silence any criticism. It’d be funny if it wasn’t so dangerous to the very fabric of our country. It’s mind-boggling.”
DeSantis and state legislature passed a bill in February 2023 to change the name of Disney’s Reedy Creek Improvement District, but an 11th hour move by Disney seemingly made it so that the company would actually retain control of the district for the foreseeable future.