A woman has accused WWE co-founder Vince McMahon, the WWE and former company executive John Laurinaitis of sex trafficking, physical and emotional abuse, sexual assault and negligence in a lawsuit obtained by The Athletic.
The complaint, filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Connecticut on Thursday and first reported by the Wall Street Journal, sheds more light on the investigations into McMahon’s misconduct, behavior that allegedly included millions in payments to women to keep quiet about their experiences with him. One of those women, Janel Grant, is the plaintiff in this new lawsuit.
The lawsuit claims Grant was introduced by a mutual friend to McMahon in the summer of 2019 amid her familial and financial trouble. McMahon offered her a job at WWE, which quickly became dependent on a sexual relationship with McMahon. Despite her initial pushback, Grant felt coerced into the relationship due to prospective employment and felt very quickly trapped in it, as McMahon warned of damage to her career and reputation if word got out.
“(I)n her years of experience with McMahon, she knew her requests to stop would be ignored at best or used to destroy her career and reputation at worst,” the lawsuit reads.
The relationship, which continued through January 2022, put her through sexual acts of “extreme cruelty and degradation,” including injury, the complaint claims in graphic detail, and she would “disassociate and/or become numb to reality” to survive the encounters. The suit claims McMahon later involved other people in their sexual acts, including then-WWE executive Laurinaitis, and shared photos, videos and details with other WWE employees. It also claims McMahon used Grant as an incentive for an unnamed WWE wrestler to re-sign with the company. She felt like a “sexual slave,” the lawsuit 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,” Grant’s attorney, Ann Callis, said in a statement distributed to media. “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.”
WWE did not respond to a request for comment but the company that bought a controlling stake of it in April 2023, TKO, said in a statement provided to The Athletic, that it is addressing the matter internally.
“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 parent company said.
According to multiple reports, a spokesperson for McMahon released a statement Thursday saying, “This lawsuit is replete with lies, obscene made-up instances that never occurred, and a vindictive distortion of the truth” before adding that McMahon “will vigorously defend himself.”
McMahon is alleged to have told Grant in January 2022 that the relationship and employment needed to end because McMahon’s wife, Linda, had learned of the situation and it could do damage to him and WWE. The lawsuit claims McMahon pressured Grant to sign a nondisclosure agreement and leave the company. Following pushback from Grant’s counsel and a back-and-forth, Grant ultimately signed an NDA for $3 million. She received a $1 million payment in February 2022 but claims in the lawsuit that she did not receive the rest.
The lawsuit claims that Grant now “lives with so much anxiety and depression that she is unable to leave her residence for weeks at a time out of fear and PTSD.” It seeks declaratory judgment that the NDA is unenforceable, compensatory damages, punitive damages and further relief.
The WSJ first reported in June 2022 that McMahon was under investigation by the WWE board following an anonymous tip of an affair and hush money payment of $3 million by McMahon. The figures of those reported payments later rose upwards of $12 million and involved at least four women, according to the WSJ. This lawsuit claims that the anonymous tip was about the alleged relationship with Grant, but the board investigation, according to the lawsuit, did not include an interview with Grant, despite her willingness to cooperate.
In July 2022, McMahon announced his retirement from WWE, though he remained its largest shareholder. He returned to the company in January 2023 with plans to sell WWE. That came in April 2023 when Endeavor bought a controlling stake in WWE to merge it with Ultimate Fighting Championship. That merger into “TKO Group” was completed in September. McMahon’s role with TKO is executive chairman of the board.
McMahon was hit also with a grand jury subpoena and search warrant in July 2023, the company disclosed last year, saying it believed it was a continuation of the investigation into McMahon’s conduct. McMahon told CNBC in August 2023, “I have always denied any intentional wrongdoing and continue to do so. I am confident that the government’s investigation will be resolved without any findings of wrongdoing.”
Grant’s lawsuit claims she “has been further traumatized by having to relive those experiences when giving evidence to the government in connection with their investigations of WWE.”
On Tuesday, WWE announced a 10-year, $5 billion deal with Netflix to air “WWE Raw,” along with its international media rights, beginning in 2025. The company also added Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson to the TKO board. Johnson rang the opening bell at the New York Stock Exchange that morning, surrounded by TKO executives, including McMahon standing next to him.
(Photo: Michael N. Todaro / Getty Images)