A former employee of World Wrestling Entertainment has sued the company, its embattled founder, Vince McMahon, and its former head of talent relations John Laurinaitis, alleging sexual assault, trafficking and emotional abuse.
Janel Grant filed the complaint Thursday in Connecticut, accusing McMahon of coercing her into a "sexual relationship," sharing sexually explicit photos and videos of her with male colleagues and subjecting her to "increasingly depraved sexual demands" — including forcing her into "sexual encounters" with Laurinaitis and others — while she was employed at the company.
The 67-page lawsuit arrived months after McMahon unexpectedly returned as chairman of WWE. The wrestling mogul had previously retired from his role as chief executive of WWE while under investigation by his board for alleged misconduct. He is currently executive chairman of WWE's publicly traded parent company, TKO.
"Through all this trauma, Ms. Grant has endured profound suffering in silence, feeling of exploitation, loss of security, and the fear of facing the wrath of WWE and McMahon’s army of attorneys if she were to come forward and bring to light the egregious acts detailed herein," the complaint reads.
"That time has passed, and Ms. Grant seeks to hold Defendants accountable for their reprehensible and unlawful acts, for her own sake and for others."
A spokesperson for McMahon said Thursday in a statement to The Times that Grant's lawsuit was "replete with lies, obscene made-up instances that never occurred, and a vindictive distortion of the truth."
McMahon has vowed to "vigorously defend" himself against Grant's allegations.
A TKO spokesperson said Thursday in a statement to The Times that 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," the spokesperson added.
Laurinaitis could not be reached for comment.
Grant alleges in her filing that McMahon "demonstrated an increasing lack of boundaries" — such as greeting her in his underwear, touching her, asking her for hugs and sharing intimate details about his personal life — while recruiting her in 2019 for a potential job at WWE. McMahon allegedly pressured Grant to keep their "closeness" a secret, threatening to summon his "world-class" legal team if she spoke up.
"As such, when McMahon pushed Ms. Grant for a physical relationship in return for long-promised employment at WWE, she felt trapped in an impossible situation: submitting to McMahon’s sexual demands or facing ruin," the complaint reads.
"Ms. Grant feared she had everything to lose and faced negative consequences no matter what happened."
While working in WWE's legal and talent relations departments from 2019 to 2022, Grant allegedly "came to understand that McMahon expected the physical relationship to continue as part of her employment" but "had no idea how sordid it would become, nor how the psychological torture and physical violence would leave her feeling helpless, isolated and trapped," the filing continues.
In one instance described in the lawsuit, McMahon allegedly defecated on Grant while forcing her to "sexually gratify" him and a friend during a threesome. During another alleged encounter, McMahon and Laurinaitis (a retired pro wrestler known as Johnny Ace) took turns forcing themselves on Grant while she begged them to stop, telling her, "No means yes" and "Take it, b—."
Numerous other allegations of violent sexual harassment and assault are detailed in the filing.
When Grant left WWE in February 2022, the lawsuit states, McMahon allegedly told Grant that his wife had "found out about their relationship" and urged her to sign a nondisclosure agreement to "avoid divorce, negative publicity and other repercussions," the complaint reads. McMahon allegedly agreed to pay Grant $3 million in exchange for her silence.
The complaint alleges that WWE attempted to "sweep the matter under the rug" and that McMahon continued to try to exploit and traffic Grant after she left the company.
Grant is asking for a jury trial, as well as judgment for compensatory, legal and punitive damages. She also is seeking declaratory judgment releasing her from the terms of her NDA.
A WWE board investigation found that McMahon made at least $14.6 million in payments between 2006 and 2022 for “alleged misconduct,” according to regulatory filings. His alleged misconduct also has been investigated by the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Department of Justice.
"I am confident that the government’s investigation will be resolved without any findings of wrongdoing," McMahon said last year in a statement to The Times.
Times staff writer Stacy Perman contributed to this report.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.