Officials with Walt Disney Parks and Resorts filed a federal lawsuit Wednesday against Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and other officials, accusing them of retaliating against the company for its opposition to a state law that critics have dubbed “Don’t Say Gay.”
In a complaint filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida, Disney officials accused the governor and other officials of carrying out “a targeted campaign of government retaliation—orchestrated at every step by Governor DeSantis as punishment for Disney’s protected speech.”
In a statement obtained by WFTV, DeSantis’s communications director, Taryn Fenske, called the lawsuit “another unfortunate example of (Disney’s) hope to undermine the will of the Florida voters and operate outside the bounds of the law.”
“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,” Fenske said.
The dispute is the latest in a conflict that sparked last year after Disney criticized the Parental Rights in Education Law, also known as “Don’t Say Gay.” The law bars schools from discussing sexual orientation and gender identity in kindergarten through the third grade, WFTV reported.
DeSantis’s office accused Disney of “echoing Democrat propaganda,” saying the bill “sensibly prohibits K through third graders from being indoctrinated with transgenderism and R-rated lessons about sexuality.” He later targeted Disney’s Reedy Creek Improvement District, which was created for the company in 1967 and included parts of Orange and Osceola counties, WJAX-TV reported.
The district gave Disney the power to essentially operate its own government. It was created by the Florida Legislature to allow the company to develop the secluded land where Walt Disney World would later stand. At the time, the nearest power and water lines were 10 to 15 miles away and neither Orange nor Osceola County had the resources needed to bring the resort to fruition, according to Reedy Creek’s website.
In February, DeSantis signed a bill giving the state control over the Reedy Creek Improvement District, now called the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District. He appointed five people to serve on the district’s board, all five of which were named in the suit filed Wednesday.
Disney sued after the Central Florida Tourism Oversight Board moved to reverse a deal made with the former board which stripped the current board of most of its powers, WFTV reported. In its complaint, Disney said the deal “had laid the foundation for billions of Disney’s investment dollars and thousands of jobs.”
“This government action was patently retaliatory, patently anti-business, and patently unconstitutional,” the company’s attorneys wrote in the complaint. “But the Governor and his allies have made clear they do not care and will not stop.”
In addition to DeSantis and Central Florida Tourism board members, Disney named the district’s administrator and Meredith Ivey, the acting secretary of the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity in its lawsuit.
Check back for updates to this developing story.