Disney says there was “a relentless campaign to arm government power against Disney” because of freedom of speech.
Walt Disney Co on Wednesday sued Republican Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, asking a court to reverse state efforts to control the Walt Disney World theme parks and intensify the battle between a global entertainment giant and a potential U.S. presidential candidate .
The lawsuit marks the American company’s response to increasing attempts by DeSantis and his supporters to wield power over Disney World, which attracts millions of visitors each year to its massive theme parks, the first of which opened in 1971.
“The company has no choice but to file this lawsuit to protect its cast members, guests and local development partners from a brutal campaign to arm government power against Disney in retaliation for expressing a political position unpopular with certain state officials Disney said. said in his lawsuit.
A spokesman for DeSantis called Disney’s move “an unfortunate example of their hopes of undermining the will of Florida voters.”
“We are not aware of any legal right a company has to run its own government or maintain special privileges not held by other companies in the state,” DeSantis spokesman Jeremy Redfern said on Twitter.
The lawsuit alleges that a newly formed DeSantis-appointed tourism agency violated Disney’s contract rights, doing so without any compensation and depriving it of due process. Disney also claims it has been denied its right to free speech under the First Amendment to the US Constitution. The company is asking the court to declare Florida’s legislative action illegal.
The battle began last year after the company criticized a state law banning discussions of sexuality and gender identity in schools in the classroom.
Disney CEO Bob Iger has called the retaliation against the company “anti-business” and “anti-Florida.” The company employs approximately 75,000 people in the state.
DeSantis, who is seen as a likely candidate for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination, is currently touring Asia as part of a visit to several other countries.
Disney shares rose slightly Wednesday afternoon.
State Republicans targeted Disney last year after it publicly clashed with DeSantis.
Florida lawmakers passed legislation ending Disney’s virtual autonomy over the 10,100 hectares (25,000 acres) development in central Florida, where the theme parks are located.
But before the takeover by DeSantis appointees, Disney pushed changes to the special tax district agreement that limited the board’s action for decades.
Shortly before news of the lawsuit broke, Florida’s new oversight board said that Disney’s plans for a possible expansion of the Walt Disney World Resort were inconsistent with state law, and annulled that agreement.
The Central Florida Tourism Oversight Board unanimously supported an attorney’s findings about legal flaws in the developer agreement Disney reached with a previous board in February, including a lack of proper public notice.
“What our lawyers have told us is that what they have created, factually and legally, is an absolute legal mess,” said board chairman Martin Garcia. “It will not work.”
The fight could boost DeSantis’ support among American Republican voters, a Reuters/Ipsos poll found, but could also hurt him among the broader electorate.
Seventy-three percent of respondents — including 82 percent of Democrats and 63 percent of Republicans — said they were less likely to support a political candidate who supports laws designed to penalize a company for its political or cultural views.