TKO Executive Chairman of the Board Vince McMahon is seen during a ceremony announcing Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson has joined the Board of Directors for TKO at New York Stock Exchange on January 23, 2024 in New York City.
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The suit by Janel Grant — which alleges McMahon directed her to have sex with a WWE “superstar” and other men — seeks to void a nondisclosure agreement Grant said she reached with McMahon in early 2022.
Grant’s suit in U.S. District Court in Connecticut says the billionaire McMahon agreed to pay her $3 million as part of that deal, but ended up only paying her $1 million in exchange for her silence about his conduct.
In addition to McMahon, 78, the complaint names as defendants WWE and John Laurinaitis, the company’s former head of talent relations and general manager.
The complaint comes six months after federal law enforcement agents executed a search warrant on McMahon and served him with a grand jury subpoena as part of an investigation into McMahon’s payment of millions of dollars to multiple women, among them Grant, after allegations of sexual misconduct.
McMahon, who resigned from WWE leadership posts in mid-2022 amid an internal company investigation, only to return as its leader in early 2023, last March paid WWE $17.4 million to cover costs of a probe of those payouts by a law firm retained by the company.
McMahon is executive chairman of the board of TKO Group Holdings, which was formed last year by a merger of his wrestling company and the mix-martial arts company UFC. He owns a significant number of shares in TKO Group.
Grant’s lawyer, Ann Callis, in a statement, said, “Today’s complaint seeks to hold accountable two WWE executives who sexually assaulted and trafficked Plaintiff Janel Grant, as well as the organization that facilitated or turned a blind eye to the abuse and then swept it under the rug.”
“She is an incredibly private and courageous person who has suffered deeply at the hands of Mr. McMahon and Mr. Laurinaitis,” Callis said. “Ms. Grant hopes that her lawsuit will prevent other women from being victimized. The organization is well aware of Mr. McMahon’s history of depraved behavior, and it’s time that they take responsibility for the misconduct of its leadership.”
A spokesman for McMahon said, ”This lawsuit is replete with lies, obscene made-up instances that never occurred, and a vindictive distortion of the truth.”
“He will vigorously defend himself,” the spokesman said.
A TKO Group spokesperson said, “Mr. McMahon does not control TKO nor does he oversee the day-to-day operations of WWE.”
“While this matter pre-dates our TKO executive team’s tenure at the company, we take Ms. Grant’s horrific allegations very seriously and are addressing this matter internally,” the TKO spokesperson said.
TKO Group on Tuesday announced that Netflix would pay $5 billion over 10 years to stream the WWE’s flagship program “Raw,” and carry all other WWE shows and specials outside the United States.
A WWE spokesman did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Grant’s suit.
The 67-page complaint says McMahon befriended Grant, who was his neighbor in an apartment building, in 2019 after learning from the building’s resident manager that her parents had died and that she was looking for a job.
Grant alleges that McMahon soon pressured her into a sexual relationship, which she succumbed to while working at WWE’s headquarters in Stamford, Connecticut.
“When McMahon pushed Ms. Grant for a physical relationship in return for long-promised employment at WWE, she felt trapped in an impossible situation: submitting to McMahon’s sexual demands or facing ruin,” the suit says.
The suit also alleges: “Given McMahon’s omnipotent position at WWE, coercion was inherent in his
increasingly depraved sexual demands.”
“Specifically, while McMahon was CEO of WWE and Ms. Grant was employed as an entry level coordinator in the legal department, McMahon recruited individuals to have sexual relations with Ms. Grant and/or with the two of them, directed Ms. Grant to visit Defendant Laurinaitis prior to the start of workdays for sexual encounters, and expected and directed Ms. Grant to engage in sexual activity at the WWE headquarters, even during working hours,” the suit says.
The complaint accuses McMahon of subjecting her to “extreme cruelty and degradation” that caused Grant to become “numb to reality to survive the horrific encounters.”
And the suit says he shared explicit photos of Grant with other WWE employees.
In January 2022, the suit says, McMahon told Grant he could no longer speak to her or be seen in the same room as her because his wife, Linda McMahon, had learned about their relationship.
“Purportedly to avoid divorce, negative publicity, and other repercussions, McMahon
said that Ms. Grant’s time at WWE was at an end, but that he wanted her to sign an NDA to ensure her silence on, among other things, his personal misconduct,” the suit said.
Linda McMahon, a former top WWE executive, served as administrator of the Small Business Administration under former President Donald Trump, who himself as performed at WWE events.
The suit said that in November 2022, WWE touted the end of a “Special Committee” investigation in Vince McMahon’s alleged misconduct with women.
“Yet the Special Committee never even bothered to interview Ms. Grant or request any documents despite Ms. Grant stating that she would cooperate,” the suit said.
In addition to seeking to void the NDA, Grant’s suit also alleges violations of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, negligence, intentional or negligent infliction of emotional distress and civil battery.
The suit, which seeks unspecified monetary damages, says that the “predatory conduct” of the defendants “has left Ms. Grant crippled, both physically and mentally, including from debilitating symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder and suicidal ideation.