Pax Global Media
Walt Disney Co. sued Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis on Wednesday (April 26), accusing him of “weaponing” government, a move that escalates a drawn-out fight between DeSantis and Disney over a classroom bill.
The House of Mouse is asking a federal court to overturn Florida’s state efforts to control Disney World, intensifying a battle between the global entertainment giant and a likely White House contender.
The lawsuit alleges DeSantis “orchestrated at every step” a campaign to punish Disney and threaten the company’s business.
The feud between the two parties began last year when Disney spoke out against a Florida bill limiting classroom discussion of sexual orientation or gender identity, dubbed “Don’t Say Gay” by critics.
Gov. DeSantis has since repeatedly attacked "woke Disney" during public remarks.
Florida lawmakers then passed legislation that ended Disney's autonomy in central Florida, Reuters reports.
In the action filed in federal court yesterday, Disney said it aimed to protect Disney World's employees, guests and developers from "retaliation for expressing a political viewpoint unpopular with certain State officials."
“Disney now is forced to defend itself against a State weaponizing its power to inflict political punishment," the company said.
The lawsuit also came after state officials nixed a development deal involving the firm's Florida theme park.
Disney argues DeSantis' actions assert control over its operations, threatening operations and violating its constitutional rights.
The company is asking courts to intervene and undo the moves.
"Disney regrets it has come to this," the company's parks division said in the lawsuit. "But having exhausted efforts to seek a resolution, the company is left with no choice but to file this lawsuit to protect its cast members, guests, and local development partners from a relentless campaign to weaponize government power against Disney in retaliation for expressing a political viewpoint unpopular with certain state officials."
Disney noted its plans to invest $17 billion in Walt Disney World over the next decade, which would result in an estimated 13,000 new jobs on top of its more than 75,000 current “cast members.”
“The government action was patently retaliatory, patently anti-business, and patently unconstitutional,” Disney alleged in the civil complaint.
In response, Gov. DeSantis’ office suggested the fight hinged on Disney’s special tax and governance privileges, not political punishment.
“We are unaware of any legal right that a company has to operate its own government or maintain special privileges not held by other businesses in the state,” DeSantis’ communications director, Taryn Fenske, told CNBC in a statement.
“This lawsuit is yet another unfortunate example of their hope to undermine the will of the Florida voters and operate outside the bounds of the law,” Fenske said.
But Disney’s lawsuit says “this is as clear a case of retaliation as this Court is ever likely to see.”
“There is no room for disagreement about what happened here: Disney expressed its opinion on state legislation and was then punished by the State for doing so,” the lawsuit said.
Disney’s lawyers noted that until a year ago, DeSantis had no issue with Disney’s self-governing structure, formerly called the Reedy Creek Improvement District.
DeSantis is expected to hold off on making a U.S. presidential announcement until after Florida’s legislative session ends May 5.
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