Disney settles lawsuit with DeSantis administration over new governing board

by Michael Moline, Florida Phoenix
March 27, 2024

Walt Disney World has agreed to live with a new state oversight board created by Gov. Ron DeSantis and the Florida Legislature in a settlement approved Wednesday in the company’s state court challenge to the arrangement.

The Central Florida Tourism Oversight District, created two years ago to replace the Disney-dominated Reedy Creek Improvement District, approved the settlement agreement during a meeting Wednesday morning.

DeSantis had set out to punish Disney for opposing his Parental Rights in Education Act, otherwise known as “Don’t’ Say Gay,” which restricts discussions of sexual orientation and gender identity in public schools.

DeSantis claimed vindication during a news conference in Orlando Wednesday.

“A year ago, people were trying to act like all these legal maneuverings were going to succeed against the state Florida. And the reality is, here we are a year later and not one of them has succeeded. Every action that we’ve taken has been upheld in full and the state’s better off,” DeSantis said.

Jeff Vahle, president of Walt Disney World Resort, issued a written statement.

“We are pleased to put an end to all litigation pending in state court in Florida between Disney and the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District. This agreement opens a new chapter of constructive engagement with the new leadership of the district and serves the interests of all parties by enabling significant continued investment and the creation of thousands of direct and indirect jobs and economic opportunity in the state,” Vahle said.

The agreement nullifies a development plan that the old Reedy Creek board adopted just before the new district, filled with DeSantis appointees, took power last year, according to the Associated Press; the company and the new district instead will cooperate in drafting a new development plan.

The agreement resolves a state lawsuit filed in Orange County Circuit Court.

Disney filed a separate federal lawsuit alleging political retaliation, which a federal trial judge in Tallahassee rejected. Disney appealed that ruling to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, where it remained on the docket as of Wednesday.

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