Disney sues Ron DeSantis: Lawsuit claims governor jeopardizes its economic future in Florida

Author: CBS News
Published: Updated:
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks at a news conference at the Reedy Creek Administration Building, Monday, April 17, 2023, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux)

Walt Disney Co. sued Florida Governor Ron DeSantis on Wednesday, alleging that the governor has overseen a “targeted campaign of government retaliation” that is threatening the media giant’s operations.

The action by DeSantis allegedly “jeopardizes its economic future in the region, and violates its constitutional rights,” according to the lawsuit, which was filed Wednesday in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida.

The lawsuit comes after a year-long battle between DeSantis and the entertainment company after Disney publicly opposed his “Parental Rights in Education” bill, which prohibits instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity in schools. After Disney spoke out against the law, DeSantis sought to gain control of the Reedy Creek Improvement District (RCID), a government entity that oversees the region where the Walt Disney World resort is based.

But Disney made an end run around that maneuver, stripping the RCID’s board of most of its power, a decision that the new chair of the revamped board called “shameful.” Earlier this month, DeSantis unveiled a new legislative push targeting Disney that would void a last-hour agreement the media company made to strip power from his state-appointed board.

On Wednesday, the state’s oversight board voided Disney’s development contracts, a move that the media company alleged is “patently retaliatory, patently anti-business, and patently unconstitutional,” according to the lawsuit.

“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 alleges.

DeSantis’s office didn’t immediately return a request for comment.

Disney underlined its importance to Florida in its lawsuit, noting that it provides the state with $1.1 billion in state and local taxes last year and is one of its biggest employers, with 75,000 employees there.

Disney “knows that it is fortunate to have the resources to take a stand against the State’s retaliation — a stand smaller businesses and individuals might not be able to take when the State comes after them for expressing their own views,” the lawsuit claims.

It added, “In America, the government cannot punish you for speaking your mind.”

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