Legal expert explains what’s next for the Vince McMahon lawsuit

Originally published at Legal expert explains what’s next for the Vince McMahon lawsuit

A little more than a week ago, a lawsuit filed against Vince McMahon, John Laurenitis, and the WWE rattled the wrestling world. A 67-page court filing made by former WWE staffer Janel Grant alleging that she suffered “physical and emotional abuse, sexual assault and trafficking” while in the wrestling promotion became mainstream news and caused McMahon to resign from his executive chairman position in TKO Group Holdings on Friday evening.

Now that the initial wave of news and fallout from the lawsuit’s horrifying allegations have come and gone, some might be wondering what’s next. Sportico’s legal analyst and senior sports legal reporter Michael McCann joined a recent episode of Pollock & Thurston to theorize how McMahon and others might respond, and how the civil case could develop.

“McMahon and the WWE will answer the complaint and deny the allegations,” McCann, who is a Professor of Law at the University of New Hampshire, said. “That’s the first step in responding to a complaint, is denial. And subsequent to that, they’ll likely petition for a motion to dismiss.”

McMahon has denied allegations made in the lawsuit and said that he will “vigorously defend” himself in the lawsuit. But besides that, we don’t know much about the argument he will make in court. If he does make a motion to dismiss, we aren’t aware yet of what his argument might be. McCann believes details around a nondisclosure agreement (NDA) that Grant signs could be their main concern.

As outlined in the lawsuit filed by Grant’s legal team, she signed a nondisclosure agreement with McMahon for $3 million, of which she claims she has only received one-third. The document describes that the agreement that Grant signed is void due to the Speak Out Act.

The Speak Out Act was signed into law by President Joe Biden in 2022 after passing in the House on a 315-to-109 vote and unanimously in the Senate. The act, brought into discussion after the MeToo movement, stops nondisclosure agreements from being “judicially enforceable in instances in which conduct [of sexual assault or sexual harassment] is alleged to have violated Federal, Tribal, or State law.”

McCann believes that McMahon’s legal team will argue that the NDA was not signed due to sexual assault or harassment, but instead as part of Grant’s exit from the company.

“McMahon will probably say ‘No, this was a general termination agreement. She was leaving the company and there’s no reference of sexual harassment, there’s no admission of any sort of guilt in it, there’s no even loose reference to any harassment.’”

Continuing to map out how the possible case could continue, McCann described how Grant could respond to that claim.

“Grant will probably argue: ‘Of course, this is about sexual harassment, you gave me $75,000 to $200,000 a year, why are you now agreeing to a termination where I get $3 million? That’s an enormous amount of money to leave a company if they’re making $100,000 … So obviously that money was for something’ And the judge has to walk through that.”

In an analysis piece written by McCann last week, he described that McMahon could bring up another reason as to why Grant was terminated from her position in the WWE, like a poor performance on the job. However, “should the defendants try that line of argument,” he wrote, “they better have performance reviews and other human resources material to corroborate.”

Just days removed from Grant’s lawsuit, there are many questions that the public can’t find answers to yet. Many wonder what course of action McMahon, Laurenitis, and WWE will take when it comes to legal representation. Will they work together in response to Grant? McCann believes there’s reason they would, although “that could change as time goes on.”

“They have an incentive to collaborate on this,” Grant said. “The fact that it’s a civil matter and not a criminal matter is also important. If this were a criminal matter, sometimes there’s the prisoner’s dilemma where you want to cut a deal with prosecutors first before the other people in a conspiracy do that. This is a civil matter, and it’s hard to downgrade it, but the stakes are really about money, not about any sort of criminal sanction.”

As mentioned, this is currently a civil suit being pursued by Grant. However, given the gravity of the accusations described in graphic detail as part of the lawsuit, discussion has circulated about whether it will ever become a criminal issue as well.

McCann thinks that while there is a possibility of criminal charges in the future, “we’re not anywhere near that yet.”

“The filing of a civil lawsuit is by no means the precursor to a criminal act … This risk to this case though, to McMahon, is that if this does lead to evidence that does suggest things were really bad, that could potentially be detrimental to him in terms of a possibility of a criminal charge.”