A former employee of World Wrestling Entertainment sued Vince McMahon, the longtime chairman and chief executive of W.W.E., in federal court on Thursday, accusing him of physical and emotional abuse, sexual assault and trafficking.
The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Connecticut, alleges that Mr. McMahon, who was subject to an internal investigation in 2022 over allegations of misconduct, sexually exploited and trafficked the former employee, Janel Grant, from 2019 to 2022. Another W.W.E. executive, John Laurinaitis, and the company itself are also named as defendants.
Mr. McMahon also pressured Ms. Grant to sign a nondisclosure agreement, the suit says, in which he agreed to pay her $3 million in exchange for not discussing their relationship.
The lawsuit seeks to void the nondisclosure agreement. It also seeks unspecified amounts in punitive damages and legal fees. Ann Callis, a lawyer for Ms. Grant, declined to comment on the suit on Thursday.
Ms. Grant’s complaint, which was previously reported by The Wall Street Journal, includes graphic descriptions of sex acts, threats and intimidation that she says she faced over several years as Mr. McMahon, 78, gained control over her professional and personal lives and wielded that power to abuse her 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 that she contact Mr. McMahon about a possible job at W.W.E. When the two met, Mr. McMahon greeted her wearing only his underwear, according to the complaint.
After promising her a position with power and a high salary within W.W.E., Mr. McMahon eventually offered Ms. Grant an entry-level position on the company’s legal staff in June 2019, in exchange for sex, according to the lawsuit.
Ms. Grant “felt trapped in an impossible situation,” the complaint says, “submitting to McMahon’s sexual demands or facing ruin.”
Once she was working at W.W.E. headquarters in Stamford, Conn., the abuse intensified, the lawsuit says. Mr. McMahon took nude photos of her and filmed them having sex, the complaint says. He showed the photos and videos to other employees and later used them to intimidate her into silence, according to the complaint.
The relationship grew increasingly violent and coercive, according to the lawsuit. Mr. McMahon pressured Ms. Grant into having sex with other people, the complaint says, including the other executive named as a defendant, Mr. Laurinaitis. In one episode described in the suit, 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 learned of their relationship and that “Ms. Grant’s time at W.W.E. was at an end,” the lawsuit says, and he began to pressure Ms. Grant to sign a nondisclosure agreement to guarantee her silence. In exchange, Mr. McMahon promised her $3 million, the complaint says. He paid the first $1 million but failed to make further payments, according to the suit.
But the sexual coercion continued into March 2022, two months after Mr. McMahon had signed the nondisclosure agreement, according to the complaint, which mentions Mr. McMahon’s business negotiations with a person described in the complaint as a “W.W.E. Superstar.” To persuade the wrestler to sign a new contract with W.W.E., 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 lawsuit says that the abuse she suffered at the hands of Mr. McMahon and others has caused “debilitating” post-traumatic stress and thoughts of suicide. When she was forced out of W.W.E., she obtained a job in the operations department of her apartment building. She lost that job, according to the lawsuit, because lingering trauma left her unable to leave her home “for weeks at a time.”
Lawyers for Mr. McMahon could not be reached for comment on Thursday. W.W.E.’s parent company, T.K.O. Group, said in a statement: “Mr. McMahon does not control T.K.O. nor does he oversee the day-to-day operations of W.W.E. While this matter predates our T.K.O. executive team’s tenure at the company, we take Ms. Grant’s horrific allegations very seriously and are addressing this matter internally.”
The legal action raises new questions about the investigation conducted in 2022 by a special committee of W.W.E.’s board of directors into Mr. McMahon’s conduct. The investigators found that Mr. McMahon had 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 found that Mr. McMahon had made additional payments totaling $5 million to two other women.
The board’s investigating committee “never even bothered to interview” Ms. Grant, according to her lawsuit, which describes the investigation as 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 it proceeded.
“I remain confident in our investigation which included outreach to Ms. Grant and engagement with her lawyer,” Mr. Speed said in an email sent Thursday by Simpson Thacher & Bartlett L.L.P., the law firm hired to represent the committee.
Mr. Speed, who left the W.W.E. 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 and was not learned during our investigation.”
Mr. McMahon temporarily resigned from the company during the investigation, though he remained “a stockholder with a controlling interest,” according to the company’s quarterly filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission in August 2023. In another S.E.C. filing, W.W.E. disclosed that federal investigators had executed a search warrant and had subpoenaed Mr. McMahon. Federal regulatory and law enforcement agencies also demanded that the company hand over documents.
No criminal charges were filed against Mr. McMahon, who denied “any intentional wrongdoing” in a statement last year. He agreed to reimburse the company for the cost of the investigation and returned to lead W.W.E. in early 2023.
Soon after his return, Mr. McMahon negotiated a deal to sell the company to Endeavor Group, which owns the mixed-martial-arts league U.F.C. Mr. McMahon retained 28 million shares in the combined company, now called T.K.O. Group, where he is also the executive chairman.