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Workers sue Disney alleging they were fraudulently induced to move to Florida from California

Workers sue Disney alleging they were fraudulently induced to move to Florida from California

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — Disney workers are suing their employer, alleging they were fraudulently induced to move from California to Florida to work at a new office campus, only to have those plans later scrapped. in the middle of a fight between the entertainment giant and the governor of Florida. Ron DeSantis.

In July 2021, the head of Disney Parks told workers in California that most administrative employees would be transferred to the new campus in Orlando to consolidate different teams and allow for greater collaboration.

Up to 2,000 workers in the digital technology, finance and product development departments would be transferred to the campus located about 20 miles (30 kilometers) from the giant Walt Disney World theme park, the company said at the time.

Many workers were reluctant to make the move due to their long-standing ties to Southern California and fear of uprooting their families, but Disney encouraged the move by promising a state-of-the-art centralized workplace and greater affordability in the central Florida, according to the class action lawsuit filed earlier this week.

“In short, employees were incentivized to act through a combination of reward and punishment,” the lawsuit says. “An employee could choose to move to a better life in Florida or, alternatively, choose not to move and be fired by Disney.”

In late 2021, when a large number of Disney employees resisted moving, Disney told them to put their move plans on hold. Meanwhile, a group of workers who had decided to relocate, including lead plaintiffs Maria De La Cruz and George Fong, sold their homes in California with the understanding that the company expected them to move, and purchased homes in downtown Florida. the lawsuit said.

Fong, who works as a creative director of product design, sold the childhood home he had inherited.

However, in June 2022, Disney leaders told California workers that the opening of the new Orlando campus was being delayed and that they could postpone the move until 2026, but they were still encouraged to relocate by 2024.

At the time, DeSantis had begun a dispute with Disney over the company’s public opposition to a Florida law that bans instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity from kindergarten through third grade. With the help of Republicans in the Florida Legislature, DeSantis revamped Walt Disney World’s governing district and installed his own appointees to its board of directors in early 2023. Prior to DeSantis’ takeover, the governing district had controlled by Disney supporters for more than five years. decades.

In May 2023, Disney told its workers that plans to open the billion-dollar campus in Orlando were being scrapped and that workers who had moved to Florida could return to California if they wished.

According to the lawsuit, many of the workers who had moved to Florida were worried about their job security if they did not move back to California, since most of their team members were still there and the company lacked facilities. in Florida to accommodate the teams. .

After the decision to pull the plug on the Orlando campus, housing prices around the campus fell and California housing prices continued to rise, just as mortgage interest rates also rose in 2023. Fong and De La Cruz, vice president of product design, have moved or plan to return to California and are seeking undisclosed economic and punitive damages.

“Other similarly situated individuals have been forced to purchase or rent less desirable housing upon their return to California,” the lawsuit says.

Disney did not respond to an email seeking comment on Friday.

Earlier this month, Disney and DeSantis’ appointees to Disney World’s governing district formally ended their fight for government control by signing a 15-year development agreement. Under the agreement, DeSantis appointees committed the district to infrastructure improvements in exchange for Disney investing up to $17 billion in Disney World over the next two decades.

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Mike Schneider’s book, “Mickey and the Teamsters: A Fight for Fair Unions at Disney,” was published in October by University Press of Florida. Follow him on Xformerly Twitter.

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