Activist company

Disney’s chief critic of Florida’s ‘anti-grooming’ law leaves the company after just 3 months

Geoff Morrell, officially director of general affairs for the Walt Disney Company, announced Friday his decision to part ways with the entertainment giant after just three months in the role.

His departure follows Disney’s highly controversial response to Florida’s Parental Rights in Education Act – a response that Morrell played a key role in shaping.

“After three months in this new role, it has become clear to me that for a number of reasons this is not the right fit,” Morrell said in a letter obtained by CNBC. “After speaking with [Disney CEO] Bob [Chapek]I decided to leave the company to pursue other opportunities.

His tenure may have been short-lived, but in just over twelve weeks, Morrell oversaw a historic public relations nightmare for the iconic brand.

Things started to go south for Disney and Morrell in early March when the company uncharacteristically decided to take a public stance on a bill passed in Florida, HB 1557, which aims to stop activist teachers from introducing gender identity to elementary school students.

The law, which was signed into law by Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis in March, prohibits public schools from teaching about issues of sexuality, sexual orientation, gender therapy, and other similar topics in 3rd grade unless that they are “age-appropriate”.

Proponents of the law claim that HB 1557 protects children from premature exposure to explicit materials or concepts. Critics say the law prevents teachers from discussing important topics with students who don’t feel comfortable discussing them with their parents.

With similar bills proposed in states like Iowa, Texas, Utah and others, the criticism grew and the conversation quickly became a national talking point. Tim Cook, CEO of Apple Inc, said publicly on Twitter that he strongly disagreed with the direction of the law, going so far as to say he was “deeply concerned” about its passage.

He would not be the only business leader to publicly oppose the law.

Until Morrell’s tenure at Disney, the company had largely played social issues fairly close to the chest. The former communications directorate under Zenia Mucha, Morrell’s predecessor, had avoided entangling the company in issues that would not directly affect it. And Disney CEO Bob Chapek has repeatedly asserted that Disney has no official position on matters like these. But Morrell had a different take on Disney.

Morrell had extensive experience in the public relations industry. A former communications director for BP, the oil production company, and Pentagon press secretary, Morrell seemed to have the perfect track record to replace Mucha.

Assuming his role, which had expanded to include government relations, public policy, and more, Morrell argued that the company should attempt to modernize its outward-looking stance. HB 1557 presented an opportunity to do just that.

Growing internal pressures also showed that many House of Mouse employees wanted to see the company take a more aggressive stance on social issues. In late March, a group of more than 100 Disney employees walked out, protesting the company’s lack of support for the LGBTQ community, despite the company’s strong support of the LGBTQ community.

Weeks after Disney’s opposition to the bill was announced, Governor Ron DeSantis stripped Disney of its special tax district in Florida – Reedy Creek – removing the zoning and building privileges Disney enjoyed in the State for decades. The company also began receiving hundreds of calls from concerned parents, expressing concern over what they saw as an attempt to “sexualize children in kindergarten”.

As Morrell steps down, Disney CEO Chapek says he’s not worried about the company’s ability to continue.

“Fortunately, the strength and experience of our existing leadership team – including relatively new hires – means there is no shortage of talent to guide our reputation functions,” Chapek said in an email. internal email.