The 10 Biggest Disney Lawsuits in Company History
Disney has existed for a century. During that time, it has risen far, so much so that it is one of the most influential entertainment companies on the planet. Unsurprisingly, Disney has faced numerous lawsuits.
Some of these have been inconsequential. In contrast, others have cost millions of dollars. As a result, interested individuals can uncover plenty of legal drama by digging into the company’s history.
Here are 10 of the biggest Disney lawsuits ever:
10. Family Sues Over Death of Monorail Operator
It is an oft-expressed sentiment that safety regulations are penned in blood. Such was the case of Austin Wuennenberg. For those curious, WFTV says he was operating a monorail when another monorail backed into him.
He was killed when the force crushed his capsule, though his passengers survived the experience without injury.
The incident happened because of two issues. One, a third operator failed to position the track properly. Two, a supervisor gave the second monorail the go-ahead to back up without checking everything was fine.
Indeed, said individual was overseeing the sequence of events from an off-premise restaurant at the time, which has since been disallowed.
Disney didn’t have a standardized process for this part of its operations. Wuennenberg was the one who paid for it when a slip-up happened.
Unsurprisingly, Wuennenberg’s family filed a civil lawsuit. Disney didn’t try to fight it in the courts. Instead, it chose to settle for an unknown sum of money.
Of course, Disney benefited by doing so. Fighting it out would’ve been challenging because it was such a straightforward case.
Moreover, the company staunched the reputational bleeding when the National Transportation Safety Board was still investigating the case.
9. Female Employees Sue Over Pay Inequality
Pay inequality is a hot topic. In 2019, two women named LaRonda Rasmussen and Karen Moore launched a class action lawsuit claiming that Disney’s policies resulted in systematically lower salaries for its female employees compared to their male counterparts.
Variety reported Rasmussen found out six of her male counterparts were paid $16,000 to $40,000 more than her despite the fact they bore the same job title.
She was given a $25,000 pay raise after raising the issue with HR, but she claims she was still paid less than the average of her male counterparts after that.
Since then, more female employees have joined the lawsuit. Moreover, several of these plaintiffs claim they were told never to discuss their compensation with their co-workers.
That matters because that means a policy of maintaining pay secrecy. Something that makes it harder for employees to realize they are being mistreated by constricting their access to the information needed to piece everything together.
8. New York Sues Over Unpaid Taxes
Large companies are good at minimizing their tax burdens. After all, they possess enormous resources, meaning they can pay for the tax expertise and experience needed to optimize their tax returns.
Still, large companies sometimes misstep, thus putting them on a collision course with the relevant governments. On one occasion, New York sued Disney because of close to $4 million in taxes and related charges, which wasn’t including $2.3 million in interest.
The Times Union explains that everything happened because of clashing interpretations of a law that allowed for the exclusion of royalties. Disney thought the law applied to its operations.
As a result, it neglected to include its royalties from foreign affiliates on its New York tax returns from 2008 to 2010. The state disagreed, as shown by how it sent a sizable tax bill after auditing the company’s accounting.
Unsurprisingly, Disney tried to fight the case before proceeding to fail repeatedly. Those overseeing the case decided that the company could exclude royalties from New York-based and only New York-based affiliates.
Furthermore, they were less than impressed with the company’s argument that this resulted in a discriminatory environment.
7. Scarlett Johansson Sues Over Black Widow
Scarlett Johansson started playing Natasha Romanoff in Iron Man 2 in 2010. She didn’t get a solo movie until 2021.
It is no exaggeration to say that it was a milestone for the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which explains why so many people put so much effort into ensuring everything lined up.
That paid off when Black Widow became a critical and commercial success. Unfortunately, its enthusiastic reception was marred when Johansson sued Disney because of the movie’s simultaneous release in theaters and through its streaming service.
Of course, the full version of events was never revealed to interested individuals. Still, The Things says there is reason to believe that Johansson would’ve preferred to settle things through other methods but winded up being forced to sue.
As the story goes, Marvel promised to give Black Widow the standard theatrical window for its movies. That means it was supposed to be exclusively shown in theaters for 90 to 120 days.
Despite this, Disney seems to have decided to do a simultaneous release because it wanted to pay Johansson a smaller box office bonus.
Reportedly, she made several attempts to settle things through other methods, which makes sense because a lawsuit would have generated a fair amount of negative attention that could have had a detrimental effect on her career. Still, the lack of success pushed her to sue in the end.
The exact details haven’t been revealed to the public. Even so, it seems safe to say that a fair amount of money was involved in the settlement.
The Johansson lawsuit was a wholly avoidable incident that further damaged confidence in Disney’s leadership.
Some speculate that it contributed to the ex-CEO Bob Chapek’s ouster in November 2022, though it is hard to say much with certainty when the man had such a controversial tenure.
6. Ilene Woods Sues Over Cinderella
Ilene Woods was an American entertainer active from the early 1940s to the mid-1980s. Supposedly, she wanted to become a teacher as a child.
However, her mother’s influence caused her to become a singer, thus launching a multi-decade career. Primarily, Woods is famous because she beat hundreds of other individuals to become the voice of Cinderella in the titular movie in 1950.
Thanks to that, she is one of the Disney Legends, referring to people who have made extraordinary contributions to the company.
Of course, Woods was also one of the women who sued Disney in the late 1980s and early 1990s when the company started releasing videocassette versions of its movies without paying them royalties.
For those unfamiliar, videocassettes were a storage medium for video and sound. Versions meant for home use existed by the early 1970s. Those didn’t become popular until much later for several reasons.
One, it took time before videocassette recorders became affordable enough to appeal to a wide range of consumers. Two, movie companies hated the concept because they were afraid of piracy, meaning it took them time to come around to the notion of selling their movies on videocassettes.
The videocassette’s heyday was in the 1980s and 1990s. By the late 1990s, it had started giving ground because of the introduction of DVDs.
Disney settled with Woods. Once again, the exact details are unclear. Still, it seems safe to say that she did well because of the settlement. After all, Woods wasn’t the first of the women to sue Disney over more-or-less the same issue, meaning she had precedent on her side.
5. Mary Costa Sues Over Sleeping Beauty
Speaking of which, Mary Costa is another American entertainer who got started during the mid-20th century before embarking on a multi-decade career.
She showed up in movies from time to time, but she could do so because she was an exceptional singer. Indeed, Costa sang in more than 40 operas hosted all over the world, which says much about her singing skills.
Despite these things, Costa is best remembered because she was the woman who played Aurora in Sleeping Beauty. In other words, she provided the voice for the third Disney Princess.
Chances are good that interested individuals can guess Costa was also one of the women who sued Disney over videocassettes in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
Specifically, she did so in 1989. Costa wasn’t the first of the women to do so. Still, she did so without knowing the outcome because her predecessor Peggy Lee wouldn’t win her case until 1990.
The two sides winded up settling in 1991, presumably because Disney could see how things would proceed with Lee’s case serving as precedent.
4. Peggy Lee Sues Over Lady and the Tramp
Peggy Lee was a singer-songwriter who worked as an actress from time to time. She started singing in 1936, though she didn’t start recording until 1941. Over time, Lee became one of the most influential figures in American pop music.
For the most part, that was because of her singing. However, she was also a prolific songwriter. Disney-wise, Lee provided the voices of four minor characters in Lady and the Tramp in 1955.
Besides that, she was also the co-composer for the songs. As such, Lee was a legend but not a Disney Legend, though one can’t help but wonder whether the lawsuit had anything to do with that.
In any case, Lee sought royalties when a videocassette version of Lady and the Tramp came out in 1987. She didn’t get any, so she decided to sue in 1988.
Eventually, Lee was victorious. The LA Times and other sources reported that she received $2.3 million for breach of contract plus another $1.5 million for other issues.
Reportedly, that was a disappointment because she had gone for $50 million in a mix of actual and punitive damages. Even if one considers that punitive damages were disallowed, her team had asked for $12 million in actual damages.
3. Two Men Sue Over Wide World of Sports
In 2000, Disney lost a $240 million lawsuit to two individuals named Nicholas Stracick and Edward Russell. The two men had pitched the idea for a sports complex to the company.
They were turned down, but they became convinced that the later Wide World of Sports was based on their work. Naturally, Stracick and Russell sued over the matter.
CNN reported that the jury decided in their favor before ordering Disney to pay them $240 million. Subsequently, the latter appealed the ruling.
The two sides eventually reached an agreement in 2002. The exact numbers are unknown. Still, chances are good that the settlement was a fraction of the $240 million because the Wide World of Sports wasn’t very profitable, meaning the appeal judges might have been less sympathetic towards the two men than the jury.
2. Genting Group Sues Over Theme Park Plans
Most interested individuals won’t have heard much about the Genting Group. It is a Malaysian conglomerate involved in everything from plantations to power generation.
Still, its core consists of its casinos and other resorts. Reuters says the Genting Group sued Disney for more than $1 billion in damages in 2018. It had licensed 21st Century Fox’s media properties for a theme park.
The issue is that its partner seemed to have had second thoughts about the deal, which is why it started delaying in hopes of renegotiating.
Eventually, 21st Century Fox issued a default notice, which the lawsuit blamed on Disney’s desire to avoid being associated with a casino company after buying much of its ex-partner.
The cancellation had a notable effect on the Genting Group’s stock price, so it isn’t hard to see why it decided to sue over the matter.
1. Celador Entertainment Sues Over Who Wants to Be a Millionaire
It is common to see localized versions of reality shows. Who Wants to Be a Millionaire is one of them. It started as a British show from Celador Entertainment.
Later, Disney acquired the right to do a U.S. version on ABC, which proved to be an extraordinary success. Unfortunately, the company doesn’t seem to have been very careful about giving Celador Entertainment everything it was due because it lost a lawsuit claiming it failed to pay revenues related to airings and merchandise sales.
Specifically, Hollywood Reporter says Disney had to pay $319 million, which was a mix of what it owed and the interest charged on what it owed.
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