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How Gina Carano, Disney Are Battling In Court

How Gina Carano, Disney Are Battling In Court

How Gina Carano, Disney Are Battling In Court

A federal judge has signaled that Gina Carano‘s lawsuit against Disney and Lucasfilm over her termination from The Mandalorian will be allowed to proceed as the court considers whether the First Amendment allows private companies to sever ties with employees who publicly clash with their values.

U.S. District Judge Sherilyn Peace Garnett on Wednesday pushed back on arguments from Disney lawyer Daniel Petrocelli, who argued that the lawsuit should be dismissed because the company has the “right not to associate with a high-profile performer on a high-profile show who’s imbuing” the Star Wars series with “views it disagrees with” that could turn fans away from the show.

Petrocelli urged the court to find in favor of Disney on its First Amendment defense on dismissal rather than at a later stage of litigation after discovery takes place in which it’s determined whether the case should be allowed to proceed to trial.

“I’m not convinced there are no disputed facts,” Judge Garnett responded. She pointed to allegations that Carano was terminated to deflect attention from Disney’s contentious business decisions at the time, including the company’s contract dispute with Scarlett Johansson and criticism of Florida’s Parental Rights in Education law, which led to the dissolution of its special tax district in the state.

The lawsuit revolves around allegations from Carano that she was wrongfully terminated and discriminated against when she was booted from the series for voicing right-wing opinions on social media. The former MMA fighter appeared on the first two seasons of The Mandalorian. She wasn’t under contract to appear on the third season or any other Disney production, according to court filings.

Carano sued after Lucasfilm in 2021 announced that she wouldn’t be returning to the series after sharing a post in which she said, “most people today don’t realize that to get to the point where Nazi soldiers could easily round up thousands of Jews, the government first made their own neighbors hate them simply for being Jews.” The post continued, “How is that any different from hating someone for their political views?” She advanced claims that Disney violated California labor laws prohibiting employers from directing workers’ political activity and reprimanding employees on the basis of political speech.

At Wednesday’s hearing, Gene Schaerr, a lawyer for the actress, stressed that the comments at issue in the case were made from Carano’s personal social media accounts.

“Nothing she said was on the show or on set,” he said as Carano sat at the defense table in the courtroom.

That may not matter, at least according to Disney. The company claimed that there are broad liberties afforded to private speakers and what viewpoints they choose — and don’t choose — to express. In a case dealing with free speech rights, the Supreme Court held that organizers of a parade had a constitutional right to not to include in the event a group seeking to express a message that they didn’t want to convey. The organizers’ decision to “exclude a message it did not like” fell within its “right as a private speaker to shape its expression by speaking on one subject by remaining silent,” the court found.

Disney argued there’s a First Amendment right to choose employees who properly convey their values, even when those choices would otherwise violate state anti-discrimination laws. It cited the Supreme Court, in Boy Scouts of America v. Dale, finding that the organization’s decision to fire an openly gay assistant scoutmaster is protected under the constitution. That constitutional right, the court concluded, shields the scouts from violations of New Jersey discrimination laws.

Under those two cases, Disney said that the state can’t force employers engaged in “expressive activity,” — in Disney’s case movies and TV shows — to convey its message through speakers like Carano who allegedly impair its ability to properly express its values, which it said include respect, integrity and inclusion. The First Amendment, it claimed, entitles it to protect its speech in the Star Wars series from association with views that it and many viewers considered offensive and contrary to its message.

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“The messenger is part of the message,” Petrocelli said. He posited, “Imagine she made comments that she hates Jews or that there was no Holocaust.”

In response to Disney’s focus on the Supreme Court’s ruling in Dale, Schaerr said that free speech rights can’t be used as a shield against violations of discrimination laws and that the ruling in the case was based on a fully developed factual record, not at the motion to dismiss stage.

He underscored, “Disney’s First Amendment defense cannot allow it to shortcircuit the normal litigation process.” Discovery will reveal whether the company violated state civil rights laws when it terminated Carano, he added.

“I don’t necessarily disagree with you,” Garnett replied.

Carano’s backers include Elon Musk, who’s helping fund the lawsuit through X. He said he would foot the legal bill for users who claim they have been discriminated against due to their activity on the platform.

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