WWE founder Vince McMahon resigns over sex trafficking lawsuit

FILE - WWE Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Vince McMahon is shown at the Connecticut Republican Convention in Hartford, Conn., May 21, 2010. Federal law enforcement agents executed a search warrant and served a federal grand jury subpoena McMahon last month, July 2023, according to a regulatory filing. McMahon is also taking medical leave from the sports entertainment company following recent spinal surgery. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill, File)
Vince McMahon, now 78, is accused of pressuring an employee into sex for her to keep her job. Credit: AP

WWE founder Vince McMahon has resigned from the wrestling body's parent company after a former employee filed a lawsuit accusing him of sexual misconduct and sex trafficking. Mr McMahon, 78, stepped down from his position as executive chairman of the board of directors at TKO Group Holdings, according to a statement released late Friday.

He denies wrongdoing, claiming that he was resigning "out of respect" for the company and wrestling brand. The federal lawsuit was filed by Janel Grant, who worked in WWE's legal and talent departments, claiming that the businessman used her to entice wrestling talent.

Other defendants mentioned include former head of talent relations John Laurinaitis. The lawsuit alleges trafficking by Mr McMahon and Mr Laurinaitis, civil battery and infliction of emotional distress by all parties – and negligence against the WWE.

It claims Ms Grant was asked to provide services for a WWE superstar so he could continue involvement in the wrestling organisation. She says that after this did not occur she recalled this to Mr McMahon, who was “physically rough” with her.

Mr McMahon denies wrongdoing and says he stood out 'out of respect'. Credit: AP

“WWE benefited financially from the commercial sex act venture orchestrated by McMahon, including by having wrestling talent, such as WWE Superstar, sign new contracts with WWE after McMahon presented plaintiff as a sexual commodity for their use,” the document says. The lawsuit also alleges that McMahon and Mr Laurinaitis “controlled her continued employment with WWE, and pressured her to engage in sex acts”. It also claims that McMahon sent sexually explicit photographs and videos of Ms Grant to WWE employees and a “world-famous athlete and former UFC Heavyweight Champion”.

Ms Grant’s lawyer, Ann Callis of Holland Law Firm, said the lawsuit is seeking to “hold accountable” the executives and WWE. Ms Callis added: “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 victimised.”

Grant is seeking unspecified monetary damages and to have the court void a $3 million (2.4 million) nondisclosure agreement, of which she alleges she received only $1 million (£787,000).

“Ms. Grant hopes that her lawsuit will prevent other women from being victimised,” Ms Callis, said in a statement Thursday. “The organization is well aware of Mr McMahon’s history of depraved behaviour, and it’s time that they take responsibility for the misconduct of its leadership.”

Mr McMahon co-founded WWE in 1980 and served on the board of directors of WWE from 1980 to September 2023, before serving as executive chairman of the newly merged TKO Group Holdings.

“I stand by my prior statement that Ms. Grant’s lawsuit is replete with lies, obscene made-up instances that never occurred, and is a vindictive distortion of the truth,” he said in the statement.

“I intend to vigorously defend myself against these baseless accusations, and look forward to clearing my name.” Mr McMahon stepped down as WWE’s CEO in 2022 amid an investigation into allegations that match those in the lawsuit, which was filed Thursday in US District Court in Connecticut, where WWE is based.

Mr Laurinaitis left the company in 2022. A TKO 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.”

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