An ex-employee of World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) has accused the company’s founder, Vince McMahon, of sexually trafficking her to entice wrestling talent.
Janel Grant says she was also sexually assaulted at WWE, in a case filed at a Connecticut district court on Thursday.
Mr McMahon’s spokesperson said the case was “replete with lies” and his client would “vigorously defend himself”.
In 2022, he stepped back as WWE’s chair and CEO amid sexual misconduct claims.
He was reinstated as chair of WWE a year later, after the company had concluded an investigation into the allegations.
WWE is the world’s largest and best-known wrestling company – last week it signed a deal with Netflix to allow pro-wrestling’s most popular weekly show, WWE Raw, to be exclusively streamed from January 2025. The programme has been shown on broadcast TV around the world for 31 years.
In the new legal case, Mr McMahon is named as a defendant alongside the WWE’s former head of talent, John Laurinaitis.
Former WWE employee Janel Grant accuses them both of trafficking her to other men “as a sexual pawn to entice world-famous wrestling talent”.
She says she was pressured into a physical relationship with the WWE chief executive in exchange for promises of employment, alleging she felt trapped “in an impossible situation… submitting to Mr McMahon’s sexual demands or facing ruin”.
She says she was unemployed at the time and dealing with her deceased parent’s bankruptcy.
According to the legal case, Ms Grant went on to work at WWE’s headquarters in Connecticut between 2019 and 2022.
She accuses Mr McMahon of recruiting individuals, including John Laurinaitis, to have sexual relations with her during that time. He “expected and directed Ms Grant to engage in sexual activity at the WWE headquarters, even during working hours”, the case document reads.
She also accuses both defendants of sexually assaulting her at WWE headquarters in June 2021.
The BBC could not reach Mr Laurinaitis for comment, and he did not respond to a request from the Wall Street Journal to comment on Thursday.
Ms Grant alleges Mr McMahon pressured her into resigning from WWE and signing a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) for a lump sum of $3m (£2.5m) after his wife found out about their relationship in 2022.
NDAs, also known as “gagging orders” or “hush agreements”, are contracts between employees and companies preventing staff from making information public.
Ms Grant is asking the court to invalidate the NDA under federal law, claiming the defendants had violated the Trafficking Victims Prevention Act. She is also seeking unspecified monetary damages.
WWE’s parent company, TKO Group Holdings, said in a statement: “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,” it added.
Back in 2022, the WWE board announced an investigation over an alleged $3m (£2.5m) settlement between Mr McMahon and an ex-employee with whom he had a consensual affair.
The 78-year-old was replaced as acting chief executive and chairperson by his daughter. In January 2023, he returned as WWE chairperson after the investigation ended.
In Thursday’s legal filing, Ms Grant called the WWE’s special committee investigation “a sham” and accused the company of attempting to “sweep the matter under the rug”. She says the committee never contacted her or requested documents from her.
Mr McMahon founded the WWE in the 1980s and has overseen its growth into a media juggernaut whose weekly content is broadcast in more than 180 countries and 30 languages.