Disney can’t seem to catch a break. Every move they make lately appears to be the wrong one, particularly those moves which led to the Mouse House losing control over the Reedy Creek Improvement District in a fight with Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and the Florida Legislature over Disney’s response to Florida’s Parental Rights in Education Act.
While critics of the bill have slammed it as anti-LBGTQ+ and dubbed it the “Don’t Say Gay” law, most Disney executives remained silent when the bill was proposed in the Florida Legislature and ultimately passed in early 2022. But after mounting pressure from Disney employees, fans, and contractors, CEO Bob Chapek finally made the move to take a public stand.
In March 2022, Chapek told investors:
We were opposed to the bill from the outset, but we chose not to take a position on it…because we felt we could be more effective behind the scenes.
Both Chapek and current CEO Bob Iger took strong stances against the bill, with Chapek saying that it could unfairly target “gay, lesbian, non-binary, and transgender kids and families.” Iger took it further by saying, “it’s about what’s right and wrong, and that just seemed wrong. It seemed potentially harmful to kids.”
But it was The Walt Disney Company’s overt decision to use its recourses to move against the bill that drew Tallahassee’s ire. The Florida Legislature then moved to strip Disney of its self-governing status and installed a five-person board to oversee Walt Disney World. The new Central Florida Tourism Oversight District will now determine, among other things, when and how Disney can build and expand its Theme Parks.
Read More: It’s Official: DeSantis Signs Disney District Takeover into Law
That entire situation most recently moved to Delaware Courts on Wednesday, March 15, 2023. Disney investor Kenneth Simeone has sued the Walt Disney Company, seeking records and communications between executives at the company over its response to the Florida law, saying that by losing its autonomy in Florida, Disney created “far-reaching” financial risks to him and other investors.
In testimony before Vice Chancellor Lori Will of the Delaware Chancery Court, Simeone’s attorney, Sean Bellew, argued that DeSantis warned Chapek that Disney could wind up in an “untenable position” if the company publically opposed the law. Bellew said that the warning from the Governor should have made the board consider what losing its special district would have meant to shareholders.
Disney’s attorney, Kevin Orsini, argued that there is no evidence to suggest that the board acted in self-interest over the interest of the shareholders when it spoke out against the law. Orsini also said:
A disagreement with a business decision isn’t enough to permit inspection. That is business judgment, not wrongdoing.
But Simeone is still after information as to why, after two board meetings, Disney suddenly switched its position on the law and ultimately spoke out against it. He seeks unredacted meeting minutes to pursue further litigation against the company. Disney and its attorneys argued that Simeone’s politically motivated lawsuit attempted to hurt the company’s reputation further.
If Simeone successfully wins this lawsuit, Disney can expect to defend itself in court for years. Vice Chancellor Will said she would issue her decision shortly.
Click here to read the court dockets of “Kenneth T. Simeone vs. The Walt Disney Company.”
It should be noted that Simeone is not the only shareholder dissatisfied with the way Disney’s approached social issues over the past few years. We recently reported that Disney shareholders demanded that the company stop any political donations to candidates that “misalign” with the company’s values.
Since Iger’s return as CEO, he has suggested that Disney will stay out of politics and did not challenge the state’s takeover of the Reedy Creek Improvement District.
We will continue to keep you updated on this story at Disney Fanatic.