Disney files federal lawsuit against Florida Governor DeSantis and district board over “targeted campaign of government retaliation

Disney has filed a federal lawsuit against Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and the district board overseeing the state, accusing them of a “targeted campaign of government retaliation.” The lawsuit alleges that DeSantis has been trying to “weaponize government power” over the company by appointing a board that nullified agreements that gave Disney control over expanding its resort in the state. The dispute began last year when Disney opposed a Florida bill limiting classroom discussion of sexual orientation or gender identity, which critics dubbed “Don’t Say Gay.” Legislators responded by passing a bill at the governor’s urging to dissolve Disney’s special taxing district by June of this year.[0] After being renamed the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District, the DeSantis board made a significant move by invalidating its previous contracts with Disney. This decision resulted in a lawsuit against the state from the company. Last week, Disney was countersued by the board.[0]

Disney’s CEO Bob Iger has been vocal in his criticism of the state’s actions, stating that the company’s primary goal has always been to continue investing in Florida.[1] He noted that Disney plans to invest $17 billion over the next 10 years, which would create around 13,000 jobs at the company and generate even more taxes for Florida.[2] At present, the area has a workforce of over 75,000 individuals who are employed by the company.[3] Iger also pointed out that there are 2,000 special districts in the state of Florida, including the Daytona Speedway and the Villages, and if the goal is to level the playing field, there needs to be “uniform application” of how special districts are established.[4]

The feud between Disney and Florida began when the company publicly opposed Florida’s controversial Parental Rights in Education bill, nicknamed “Don’t Say Gay,” which restricts discussions of gender identity and sexual orientation in the classroom. In March of 2022, the bill was signed into law by DeSantis.[5] Disney claims in its lawsuit filed in a federal court that there has been “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.”[6] The company argues that DeSantis’s actions violate its First Amendment rights.[7]

Iger has emphasized that Disney pays its fair share of taxes, employs thousands of people, and pays them above the minimum wage dictated by the state of Florida.[8] He also mentioned that the company provides great benefits and free education to its employees. Iger added that the special privileges Disney has been given to essentially govern itself are a direct function of how much the company contributes to the state’s economy and that they aren’t all that special.[9] He notes that there are about 2,000 special districts in Florida, including the Daytona Speedway and retirement community The Villages.[10]

Disney’s lawsuit against Florida comes after the state took over Disney’s special district, renaming it the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District, and nullifying the agreements that gave Disney control over expanding its resort in the state. The board overseeing Disney’s special taxing district, appointed by and aligned with DeSantis, voted to sue the company days after the entertainment giant filed its own lawsuit against the board. Iger stated during an earnings call that the company never expected to be in a position of having to defend its business interests in federal court, particularly after having such a terrific relationship with the state for more than 50 years.[11]

0. “Disney CEO asks: Does Florida want our tax dollars, or not?” Detroit News, 11 May. 2023, https://www.detroitnews.com/story/business/2023/05/11/disney-ceo-iger-florida-desantis-tax-dollars/70208463007/

1. “Disney CEO addresses Gov. DeSantis controversy during earnings call” WESH 2 Orlando, 11 May. 2023, https://www.wesh.com/article/disney-ceo-bob-iger-desantis/43856921

2. “Bob Iger on Ron DeSantis’ Legal Battle With Disney: Does Florida “Want Us to Invest More … or Not?”” Hollywood Reporter, 10 May. 2023, https://www.hollywoodreporter.com/business/business-news/bob-iger-ron-desantis-florida-investment-1235484697

3. “Iger hammers Florida ‘retaliation’ on Disney’s earnings call” CNBC, 10 May. 2023, https://www.cnbc.com/2023/05/10/disney-iger-desantis-retaliation-florida.html

4. “Disney CEO Bob Iger addresses DeSantis ‘retaliation’ on earnings call” News 13 Orlando, 10 May. 2023, https://www.mynews13.com/fl/orlando/news/2023/05/10/disney-ceo-bob-iger-calls-florida-situation-retaliation

5. “Ron DeSantis Is Losing Popularity Contest With Disney” Newsweek, 4 May. 2023, https://www.newsweek.com/ron-desantis-losing-popularity-contest-disney-1798329

6. “Ron DeSantis’s Vision of Freedom Is Unconstitutional” The Atlantic, 30 Apr. 2023, https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2023/04/desantis-disney-lawsuit-free-speech-florida/673903/

7. “Disney’s Lawsuit Against Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis Has Change Of Judges” Deadline, 29 Apr. 2023, https://deadline.com/2023/04/disneys-lawsuit-against-florida-gov-ron-desantis-change-of-judges-1235341759

8. “Bob Iger Speaks On Florida Dispute During Earnings Call” The DIS, 10 May. 2023, https://www.wdwinfo.com/news-stories/bob-iger-speaks-on-circumstances-in-florida-during-earnings-call/

9. “Disney’s Bob Iger issues threat to Florida, DeSantis” Business Insider, 10 May. 2023, https://www.businessinsider.com/disney-bob-iger-issues-threat-to-florida-desantis-taxes-jobs-2023-5

10. “Disney CEO asks if Florida officials want it to invest more in state or not” The Hill, 11 May. 2023, https://thehill.com/homenews/state-watch/3999568-disney-ceo-asks-if-florida-officials-want-it-to-invest-more-in-state-or-not/

11. “Bob Iger warns Florida governor Ron DeSantis his feud with Disney may cost the state up to $17 billion” Fortune, 11 May. 2023, https://fortune.com/2023/05/11/bob-iger-disney-ron-desantis-florida-governor-reedy-creek-state-investments-17-billlon

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