The WWE board is investigating CEO Vince McMahon over a series of nondisclosure agreements related to misconduct claims made by several women who used to work for the company, according to a report from the Wall Street Journal. The crux of the report is a secret $3 million settlement that McMahon paid to a paralegal with whom he had an affair, but it sounds like that’s not the only NDA to come to light.
The board received a number of emails from an anonymous friend of the paralegal in late March, alleging that McMahon “gave her like a toy” to John Laurinaitis, WWE’s head of talent relations. From the report:
The first email, sent to board members on March 30, that alleged Mr. McMahon, 76 years old, initially hired the woman at a salary of $100,000 but increased it to $200,000 after beginning a sexual relationship with her.
Wall Street Journal
“My friend was so scared so she quit after Vince McMahon and [McMahon’s] lawyer Jerry [McDevitt] paid her millions of dollars to shut up,” the initial email to the board read. A WWE spokesperson stressed to the Journal that the relationship was consensual, while McDevitt said the ex-employee made no harassment claims. The board includes Vince, his daughter Stephanie, her husband Paul Levesque (aka Triple H), and WWE president Nick Khan.
Former Sony executive Man Jit Singh is reportedly running point on the investigation, and the board’s eight members who aren’t WWE employees or McMahon family members have retained a white shoe law firm. In addition to probing the McMahon settlements, that law firm is also “assessing WWE’s compliance and human-resources programs and company culture.”
McMahon has a history of being accused of sexual misconduct, and of using his power and wealth to squash any claims made against him. In 1992, former WWE referee Rita Chatterton gave an interview on Geraldo Rivera’s show accusing McMahon of raping her in 1986, which prompted a countersuit from McMahon against Chatterton and Rivera requesting $1 million for “emotional damages.” In 2006, an employee of a Florida tanning salon accused McMahon of trying to “attack and rape her,” and though police investigated and claimed probable cause for an arrest, McMahon was never charged or arrested over the incident.
Dozens of former WWE wrestlers filed a class action lawsuit against McMahon in 2016 over the company’s mishandling of injuries and failure to care for its employees. Former WWE wrestler Ashley Massaro also joined the suit, claiming that she was drugged and raped by someone working for the US military while she was on a WWE tour in Kuwait in 2006. Massaro said she told McMahon about the incident, and McMahon “exerted extreme pressure on us to stay silent.”
The news of the secret settlement with the ex-paralegal comes amid an uncertain time for McMahon and WWE. Khan’s decisions since moving to the company from CAA have fueled rumors that the promotion might be for sale. Khan has confirmed that he’s been approached by potential buyers, though he’s denied that he is actively trying to engineer the sale, even as various insiders report that as his goal. Stephanie McMahon’s departure from the company last month (she still has her board seat), as well as Vince McMahon’s advanced age (he turns 77 in August) both point towards some sort of shakeup. McMahon and his family still control WWE, as the Journal reports that the McMahons hold the majority of the company’s Class B shares, which come with more voting power. Even so, the results of this investigation could change who’s at the top of WWE.