World Wrestling Entertainment Inc. is looking into Vince McMahon after uncovering a secret $3 million settlement between the longtime chief executive and a former employee with whom he reportedly had an affair.
According to The Wall Street Journal, the WWE board’s investigation began in April and has already “unearthed other, older nondisclosure agreements involving claims by former female WWE employees of misconduct by Mr. McMahon and one of his top executives, John Laurinaitis, the head of talent relations at WWE.” It is unknown at this time how many previous agreements were being examined but the payments have been determined to total several millions of dollars.
New York-based law firm Simpson Thacher & Bartlett LLP has been employed by the board’s eight independent directors to conduct the investigation. The law firm will also assess WWE’s compliance and human-resources programs and company culture. Preliminary findings reported that McMahon used personal funds to pay the former female employees who signed the NDAs, including any allegations against Laurinaitis.
Board members first learned of the $3 million agreement after receiving a series of anonymous emails from someone claiming to be a friend of the former employee, who was hired as a paralegal for WWE in 2019. The first email alleged that McMahon initially hired the woman at a salary of $100,000 but later increased it to $200,000 after beginning a sexual relationship with her. The email also revealed that McMahon “gave her like a toy” to Laurinaitis. “My friend was so scared, so she quit after Vince McMahon and lawyer Jerry paid her millions of dollars to shut up,” read the email, referring to McMahon’s longtime lawyer Jerry McDevitt, who reportedly negotiated the deal.
A spokesperson for WWE stated the company is taking the allegations seriously and is cooperating fully with the board inquiry. The spokesperson added that the relationship between the 76-year-old McMahon and the ex-paralegal was consensual. McDevitt said in a letter to The Wall Street Journal that the former paralegal hadn’t made any claims of harassment against McMahon and that “WWE did not pay any monies” to the ex-employee “on her departure.” The January 2022 separation agreement forbids the former employee, who moved from the legal department in 2021 to become an assistant to Laurinaitis, from discussing her relationship with McMahon. McMahon and Laurinaitis have not commented on the misconduct claims at this time.
WWE is the largest professional wrestling promotion in the world with reported revenue of $1.1 billion in 2021. The global entertainment company also operates multiple subsidiaries that create and develop films, books and music focused on its star wrestlers. WWE further licenses its intellectual property to companies to produce video games and action figures.
Lee Freitag is a movie and television news writer at CBR. Raised on the Canadian Prairies, Lee enjoys spending time with friends and family and watching Back to the Future for what has to be the hundredth time.