A former World Wrestling Entertainment employee sued WWE's longtime chairman and chief executive Vince McMahon in federal court on Thursday, accusing him of physical and emotional abuse, sexual assault and human trafficking.
The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Connecticut, alleges that from 2019 to 2022, Mr. McMahon, who was under an internal investigation into allegations of misconduct, married former employee Janel Grant, another WWE Manager, sexually exploited and trafficked John Laurinaitis and the company itself are also named as defendants.
Mr. McMahon also pressured Ms. Grant to sign a nondisclosure agreement, the lawsuit says, in which he agreed to pay her $3 million in exchange for her not speaking about their relationship.
The aim of the lawsuit is to revoke the confidentiality agreement. It also seeks unspecified amounts of punitive damages and legal fees. Ann Callis, a lawyer for Ms. Grant, declined to comment on the lawsuit Thursday.
Ms. Grant's complaint, previously reported by The Wall Street Journal, contains graphic descriptions of sexual acts, threats and intimidation that she says she was subjected to over several years as Mr. McMahon, 78, took control of her profession – and private life gained and exercised this power to abuse them psychologically and sexually.
When Ms. Grant met Mr. McMahon in 2019, the complaint says, her parents had recently died and she was unemployed. Mutual friends suggested she contact Mr. McMahon about a possible job with WWE. When the two met, Mr. McMahon greeted her in only his underwear, according to the complaint.
After promising her a position of power and a high salary at WWE, Mr. McMahon ultimately offered Ms. Grant an entry-level position in the company's legal department in June 2019 in exchange for sex, the lawsuit says.
Ms. Grant “felt trapped in an impossible situation,” the complaint says, “of giving in to McMahon's sexual demands or facing ruin.”
When she worked at WWE headquarters in Stamford, Connecticut, the abuse intensified, the lawsuit says. Mr. McMahon took nude photos of her and filmed her having sex, the complaint says. He showed the photos and videos to other employees and later used them to intimidate and silence them, the complaint says.
The relationship became increasingly violent and coercive, the lawsuit says. Mr. McMahon pressured Ms. Grant to have sex with other people, the lawsuit says, including the other manager named as a defendant, Mr. Laurinaitis. In one episode described in the lawsuit, Ms. Grant says that Mr. McMahon and Mr. Laurinaitis locked her in an office and took turns raping her.
In 2022, Mr. McMahon told Ms. Grant that his wife had found out about their relationship and that “Ms. “Grant’s time with WWE was over,” the lawsuit says, and he began pressuring Ms. Grant to sign a nondisclosure agreement to guarantee her silence. In return, Mr. McMahon promised her $3 million, the complaint says. He paid the first $1 million but made no further payments, the lawsuit says.
But the sexual assault continued until March 2022, two months after Mr. McMahon signed the nondisclosure agreement, according to the complaint, which mentions business negotiations by Mr. McMahon with a person described in the complaint as a “WWE superstar.” . To convince the wrestler to sign a new contract with WWE, Mr. McMahon offered sex with Ms. Grant as “part of the deal,” according to a screenshot of a text message included in the lawsuit.
Ms. Grant's statement of claim says the abuse she suffered at the hands of Mr. McMahon and others led to “debilitating” post-traumatic stress and suicidal thoughts. When she was cut from the WWE, she got a job in the operations department of her apartment building. She lost that job, the lawsuit says, because she was unable to leave her home for “weeks” due to ongoing trauma.
Mr. McMahon's lawyers could not be reached for comment on Thursday. WWE parent company TKO Group said in a statement: “Mr. McMahon does not control TKO or oversee the day-to-day operations of WWE. Although this matter predates our TKO leadership team’s tenure at the company, we take Ms. Grant’s horrific allegations very seriously and are addressing this matter internally.”
The lawsuit raises new questions about the 2022 investigation into Mr. McMahon's conduct by a special committee of the WWE board of directors. Investigators found that Mr. McMahon spent $14.6 million between 2006 and 2022 on payments to women who had accused him of sexual misconduct and that the payments should have been recorded as business expenses. Further investigation by the company revealed that Mr. McMahon had made additional payments totaling $5 million to two other women.
The panel's investigative committee “never bothered to interview Ms. Grant,” her lawsuit says, calling the investigation a “sham.”
Jeff Speed, who led the investigation as a board member, described it as thorough and emphasized that Mr. McMahon had “publicly left” the company while the work was ongoing.
“I remain confident in our investigation, which included contacting Ms. Grant and working with her attorney,” Mr. Speed said in an email sent Thursday by Simpson Thacher & Bartlett LLP , the law firm hired to represent the committee.
Mr. Speed, who stepped down from the WWE board in 2023, added that he recognized “the horrific nature of the allegations” in the lawsuit but that he was “not at liberty to comment on what was discovered during our investigation and what.” not.”
Mr. McMahon temporarily resigned from the company during the investigation but remained “a controlling shareholder,” according to the company's quarterly filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission in August 2023. In another SEC filing, WWE disclosed to federal investigators that it had executed a search warrant and subpoenaed Mr. McMahon. Federal regulators and law enforcement agencies also demanded the company release documents.
No criminal charges have been filed against Mr. McMahon, who denied “any intentional wrongdoing” in a statement last year. He agreed to reimburse the company for the costs of the investigation and returned to the helm of WWE in early 2023.
Shortly after his return, Mr. McMahon negotiated a deal to sell the company to Endeavor Group, which owns the UFC mixed martial arts league. Mr. McMahon retained 28 million shares of the combined company, now called TKO Group, where he also serves as executive chairman.