Walt Disney Co. sued Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis on Wednesday, alleging the Republican governor has waged a “relentless campaign to weaponize government power” against the company amid a protracted fight over a controversial classroom bill.
The federal lawsuit alleges that DeSantis “orchestrated at every step” a campaign to punish Disney that now threatens the company’s business.
The move dramatically escalates the drawn-out feud between DeSantis, who is expected to become a top Republican contender for the 2024 presidential race, and Disney, which is among Florida’s largest employers.
The fight began last year, Disney came out against a Florida bill limiting classroom discussion of sexual orientation or gender identity, dubbed “Don’t Say Gay” by critics. Soon after, the governor and his allies targeted the special tax district that has allowed Disney to essentially self-govern its Florida operations since the 1960s.
The lawsuit was filed on the same day that the district’s board of supervisors, which DeSantis had picked to take control over Disney’s Orlando-area parks, moved to undo a development deal that it says Disney struck to thwart its power.
The panel unanimously voted to declare “void and unenforceable” that development deal, which was approved shortly before DeSantis replaced the Disney-approved board with his preferred supervisors.
The lawsuit called that action the “latest strike,” saying the development contracts “laid the foundation for billions of Disney’s investment dollars and thousands of jobs.”
“The government action was patently retaliatory, patently anti-business, and patently unconstitutional,” Disney alleged in the civil complaint in U.S. District Court in northern Florida.
The board also voted for a resolution to effectively ban Disney’s Orlando-area parks from imposing future Covid-related restrictions.
Disney is asking the court to rule that the board’s legislative step was unlawful and unenforceable.
DeSantis’ office did not immediately respond to CNBC’s request for comment.