A former employee of WWE sued founder Vince McMahon, alleging he abused and sexually exploited her when he was CEO of the wrestling-entertainment company — and that McMahon allegedly trafficked her to other men “as a pawn to secure talent deals” with prospective wrestlers the company was recruiting.
The former WWE employee, Janel Grant, filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court for the District of Connecticut Thursday naming McMahon, WWE and former head of talent relations John Laurinaitis as defendants.
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The lawsuit alleges McMahon, Laurinaitis and WWE violated the Trafficking Victims Prevention Act, and includes claims of civil battery and intentional infliction of emotional distress in relation to years-long sexual and emotional abuse Grant said she endured as an employee of WWE. The lawsuit seeks unspecified monetary damages as well as a declaratory judgment that a nondisclosure agreement Grant signed while she was a WWE employee is “void and unenforceable, and does not bar any of Plaintiff’s claims against Defendants McMahon and WWE.” A copy of the lawsuit is available at this link.
Reps for WWE and McMahon did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
A spokesperson for TKO Group Holdings, the parent company of WWE and UFC, said in a statement: “Mr. McMahon does not control TKO nor does he oversee the day-to-day operations of WWE. While this matter predates 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 lawsuit was filed two days after TKO inked a 10-year deal with Netflix for WWE’s “Monday Night Raw” valued at $500 million per year, a significant step-up in fees for the franchise. (Reps for Netflix did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the lawsuit.) In addition to the Netflix deal, TKO Group announced that Dwayne Johnson has joined its board and that Johnson gained ownership of the trademarked name “The Rock.”
McMahon stepped down as WWE’s CEO in June 2022 amid an investigation by the company’s board into alleged hush-money payments to women who accused him of sexual misconduct. As WWE’s chief exec, McMahon made payments totaling $19.6 million dating back to 2007 related to alleged misconduct, the company disclosed. In March 2023, McMahon paid WWE $17.4 million for costs the company incurred in investigating misconduct allegations against him.
McMahon returned to the company in January 2023 as executive chairman to lead efforts to sell WWE, which last year merged with UFC to form TKO Group Holdings as a separately traded public company in deal engineered by Endeavor. McMahon became executive chairman of the board for TKO Group in September 2023. In November, McMahon sold about $670 million worth of TKO stock following the UFC-WWE merger. The stock he sold represents about 30% of the 28 million shares of TKO that McMahon previously owned, per a regulatory filing. Currently McMahon holds about 12% of the economic interest and voting power in TKO.
According to Grant’s lawsuit, McMahon and Laurinaitis — on WWE property and using WWE funding — both engaged in sexual assault and trafficking of Grant “both for their own pleasure and as a pawn to secure talent deals with prospective wrestlers they were recruiting.” McMahon “repeatedly used sex toys named after other WWE employees, wrestlers and performers to sexually groom Ms. Grant for trafficking to those same people,” per the suit.
In addition, according to the legal complaint, McMahon “would shower Ms. Grant with gifts and empty work promotions, while at the same time threatening her livelihood and her reputation if she wouldn’t succumb to his increasingly depraved sexual demands, including disseminating pornography of Ms. Grant to ‘thousands’ of individuals and engaging in sex acts with other WWE employees — some of whom were complete strangers.”
According to the lawsuit, after McMahon’s wife learned of his relationship with Grant, Grant “was abruptly pressured to resign from the WWE and forced to sign an NDA days before a major financial deadline for the organization under the guise that Mr. McMahon would ‘protect her’ financially and reputationally, and pay her $3 million. However, Mr. McMahon later refused to make payments to Ms. Grant, falsely claiming that she had leaked information to the press,” according to the suit. McMahon paid Grant $1 million in February 2022 but McMahon “failed to make any further payments,” the lawsuit states.
According to Grant’s lawsuit, she and McMahon lived in the same apartment building and met in March 2019. In June of that year, per the complaint, “After succumbing to the pressure for a physical relationship, Ms. Grant was slotted into an entry-level position as an ‘administrator-coordinator’ — a position McMahon created for her in WWE’s legal department.” In March 2021, McMahon transferred Grant to the talent relations department, reporting to Laurinaitis.
While McMahon was CEO of WWE and 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,” according to the lawsuit.
Citing an example of McMahon’s “extreme depravity,” on May 9, 2020, “he defecated on Ms. Grant during a threesome, and then commanded her to continue pleasuring his ‘friend’ — with feces in her hair and running down her back — while McMahon went to the bathroom to shower off,” the lawsuit says.
In June 2021, according to the complaint, McMahon and Laurinaitis “sexually assaulted Ms. Grant inside Laurinaitis’ office” at WWE’s Stamford, Conn., headquarters. “Behind a locked door, the two men cornered her and pulled her in between them, forcibly touched her, before ultimately putting her on top of a table in between them,” the lawsuit states. “She begged them to stop, but they forced themselves on her, each taking turns restraining her for the other, while saying ‘No means yes’ and ‘Take it, bitch.'”
Ann Callis, an attorney for Grant, said in a statement, “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. 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.”
Grant’s lawsuit against McMahon, Laurinaitis and WWE was first reported by the Wall Street Journal.
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