Disney Sues Florida Governor and Tourism Board Over Retaliation Threatening Its Business Operations and Constitutional Rights

Disney Parks & Resorts has filed a lawsuit against Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District Board, alleging “a targeted campaign of government retaliation” that threatens its business operations, economic future in the region, and violates its constitutional rights.[0] The lawsuit cites retaliatory measures taken by DeSantis after Disney’s opposition to the controversial Parental Rights In Education Bill, dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay” bill by critics.[1] DeSantis has been vocal about his displeasure with the company ever since Disney’s then-CEO Robert Chapek voiced his “disappointment” over the enactment of the bill in 2022.[2] In response, DeSantis signed a bill into law in February aimed at seizing control of the self-governing special district near Orlando that the corporation had been running since Disney World opened in 1972.[2]

The conflict escalated further this week as Disney expanded its federal lawsuit, accusing DeSantis of doubling down on his “retribution campaign” by signing legislation to void Disney’s development deals in Orlando.[3] In a conference call, Disney CEO Bob Iger questioned whether the company would continue to invest in Florida, stating, “Does the state want us to invest more, employ more people, and pay more taxes or not?”[4] Iger also pointed out that Disney’s special privileges in the Reedy Creek special district were a direct function of how much the company contributed to the state’s economy and that there are about 2,000 special districts in Florida granted to corporations, including Daytona Speedway and The Villages.[5]

The case has brought to light the issue of government retaliation against protected speech, and Disney’s lawsuit is a significant test of the First Amendment’s protection for free speech in the business world. The outcome of the legal battle could set a precedent for other corporations that have faced punitive measures from state governments for their public stances on political issues. Regardless of the outcome, the feud has soured the long-standing relationship between Disney and the state of Florida and could have significant economic consequences for both parties.

0. “Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signs bIll to require state inspections of the Walt Disney World monorail system” wdwmagic.com, 11 May. 2023, https://www.wdwmagic.com/transportation/monorail/news/11may2023-florida-governor-ron-desantis-signs-bill-to-require-state-inspections-of-the-walt-disney-world-monorail-system.htm

1. “Lauren Boebert Joins Ron DeSantis’ Fight Against Disney” Newsweek, 12 May. 2023, https://www.newsweek.com/lauren-boebert-ron-desantis-disney-feud-no-fly-zone-1800005

2. “Disney v DeSantis: what’s at stake for Florida as legal tug-of-war ramps up?” The Guardian, 9 May. 2023, https://www.theguardian.com/film/2023/may/09/disney-v-desantis-florida-lawsuit

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 Makes Threat to Ron DeSantis” Newsweek, 11 May. 2023, https://www.newsweek.com/disney-ceo-bob-iger-makes-threat-ron-desantis-florida-taxes-1799615

5. “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

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