Disney sues Florida Governor Ron DeSantis over state efforts to control its theme parks

Company claims state is waging a 'relentless campaign to weaponise government power' in response to Disney 'expressing a political viewpoint'

A statue of Walt Disney and Micky Mouse stands in front of Cinderella's Castle at Walt Disney World in Lake Buena Vista, Florida. AP
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Walt Disney Company sued Florida Republican Governor Ron DeSantis on Wednesday, asking a court to overturn state efforts to control Disney World theme parks.

The move intensifies a battle between the global entertainment company and the potential White House contender.

The lawsuit marks the company's response to escalating efforts by Mr DeSantis and his supporters to exert power over Disney World, which draws millions of visitors every year to its massive amusement parks, the first of which opened in 1971.

“The company is left with no choice but to file this lawsuit to protect its cast members, guests and local development partners from a relentless campaign to weaponise government power against Disney in retaliation for expressing a political viewpoint unpopular with certain state officials,” Disney said in its lawsuit.

A DeSantis spokesman called Disney's action “an unfortunate example of their hope to undermine the will of Florida voters”.

“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,” Jeremy Redfern said on Twitter.

The lawsuit alleges that a newly formed DeSantis-appointed tourist board violated Disney's contract rights, denying it just compensation as well as due process. Disney also argues it has been denied its First Amendment right to free speech. The company is asking the court to declare Florida's legislative action unlawful.

The battle began last year after the company criticised a state law banning classroom discussion of sexuality and gender identity in schools.

Disney chief executive Bob Iger has called the retaliation against the company “anti-business” and “anti-Florida”.

The company employs about 75,000 people in the state.

Mr DeSantis, who is seen as a probable candidate for the Republican 2024 presidential nomination, is currently travelling abroad.

The lawsuit is the latest salvo in an increasingly bitter fight between the entertainment company helmed by Bob Iger and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis. AFP

Disney shares were up marginally on Wednesday afternoon.

State Republicans last year lashed out at Disney after it publicly clashed with Mr DeSantis.

Florida state politicians last year passed legislation that ended Disney's virtual autonomy in developing 25,000 acres in central Florida where its theme parks are located.

Reuters contributed to this report

Updated: April 27, 2023, 6:31 AM