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Horton Law Firm Blog Carano v. Disney Wrongful Termination Lawsuit Update

 | Carano v. Disney Wrongful Termination Lawsuit Update

In February 2024, Star Wars actress Gina Carano, who played Cara Dune in the Disney+ show The Mandalorian, filed a lawsuit against Disney based on her termination back in 2021. She claimed wrongful termination based on her political speech and discrimination based on her sex, as male co-stars spoke about similar issues without repercussion. I wrote about the lawsuit, including how it might fare under South Carolina law, in a blog post that you can read here. At that early stage, however, the only facts we had were what Carano alleged in her lawsuit, and I didn’t know at the time what defenses Disney would raise in response.

Disney’s Motion to Dismiss Carano’s Wrongful Termination

Since then, Disney responded by filing a Motion to Dismiss in early April 2024, seeking to have the lawsuit thrown out altogether. Disney argues the First Amendment is a complete bar to Carano’s legal claims, because the state of California cannot Force Disney (yes, I’m going to use that pun to death, don’t worry) to use an employee such as Carano who would, in Disney’s view, impair Disney’s ability to convey its own message. Disney argues that existing case law (prior court decisions) allows Disney to choose who to associate with in the creative process and associated expressive speech. 

If Disney wins its Motion to Dismiss, then the case is ejected prior to the court making the jump to hyperspace. But at the hearing on June 12, 2024, the judge did not seem likely to dismiss the whole lawsuit. Generally speaking, the Motion to Dismiss relates mostly to whether the lawsuit was pleaded properly (i.e., written with sufficient detail that, if accepted as true, would allow her to win). But Disney wants to argue the substance at this early stage of the case, which the judge indicated was too early, since Carano had not yet had a chance to engage in the discovery process (requesting documents from Disney and taking depositions of the witnesses and higher ups at Disney). The judge has not ruled yet on Disney’s motion, but at this point, I would expect the judge to deny the motion and allow the parties to continue the lawsuit. Later in the case, Disney will have another opportunity to file a motion for summary judgment that would seek to have the case thrown out once again, prior to a jury trial. 

But at the very least, we have a better idea of what legal arguments Disney will be using in order to fight Carano’s wrongful termination lawsuit. 

Takeaways for South Carolina Employees

As I’ve written about before, South Carolina employees have state-law protection against an employer terminating an employee for exercising certain political rights. However, state employees have greater free speech protections than employees of private corporations, so I’m not sure that the Political Rights Statute in S.C. would be much help to Carano, just as very few cases are brought in South Carolina under that statute anyway. But most employees (so long as the company has at least 15 employees) in South Carolina have protection against sexual discrimination, where a male co-worker is treated more favorably than a female employee for the same or similar conduct. In my view, this is probably Carano’s stronger claim. 

If you have possible claims for discrimination based on sex, race, religion, age, disability, or exercise of political rights, you should speak with a South Carolina employment lawyer about your case in more detail. 

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