He's under investigation for allegedly paying hush money to a former employee over an affair
An HR nightmare has slammed World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE), as Vince McMahon has stepped down as CEO and chairman due to an investigation that he allegedly paid hush money to a former employee over an affair.
Stephanie McMahon, Vince’s daughter who has served as chief brand officer since 2013, has been chosen to serve as CEO and chairwoman during the investigation, WWE announced on Friday. Last month, she announced she was taking a leave of absence from the majority of her responsibilities at the Stamford, CT-based company. “WWE is a lifelong legacy for me and I look forward to returning to the company that I love after taking this time to focus on my family,” she tweeted.
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The leadership shakeup comes on the heels of a Wall Street Journal report that McMahon, 76 years old, agreed to a secret $3 million settlement with the former employee. The separation agreement, which was signed in January, prevents the woman (a paralegal hired in 2019) from discussing her relationship with McMahon or making disparaging comments about him, the Journal reported. The WWE’s board of directors launched the investigation in April, uncovering other nondisclosure agreements over the years involving misconduct claims from former employees against McMahon and John Laurinaitis, head of talent relations, according to the Journal.
“A Special Committee of the Board is conducting an investigation into alleged misconduct by its Chairman and CEO Vincent McMahon and John Laurinaitis, head of talent relations, and that, effective immediately, McMahon has voluntarily stepped back from his responsibilities as CEO and Chairman of the Board until the conclusion of the investigation,” WWE said in a press release.
McMahon will retain his role and responsibilities related to WWE's creative content during this period, the company announced.
Until the conclusion of the investigation into recent allegations, I am honored to assume the role of interim Chairwoman & CEO. I love @WWE and all it continues to do to entertain billions around the world. https://t.co/E2MushpoSG— Stephanie McMahon (@StephMcMahon) June 17, 2022
"I have pledged my complete cooperation to the investigation by the Special Committee, and I will do everything possible to support the investigation. I have also pledged to accept the findings and outcome of the investigation, whatever they are," McMahon said in a statement.
The board learned of the secret agreement via a series of anonymous emails starting on March 30 sent from someone who said the paralegal was a friend, the Journal reported. The first email alleged that McMahon hired the woman at a salary of $100,000, but increased it to $200,000 after beginning a sexual relationship with her. The email also alleged that McMahon “gave her like a toy” to Laurinaitis, a pro wrestler-turned-executive who returned to his position as head of talent relations in March 2021 after nearly a decade out of the role.
“My friend was so scared so she quit after Vince McMahon and lawyer Jerry paid her millions of dollars to shut up,” the email said, referring to McMahon’s longtime lawyer, Jerry McDevitt, who negotiated the deal, the Journal reported.
The preliminary finding of the board is that McMahon used personal funds to pay the former female employees, the Journal reported. A WWE spokesperson told the Journal McMahon's relationship with the paralegal was consensual. McDevitt, McMahon's attorney, said the paralegal had made no claims of harassment against McMahon and WWE paid no money to her "on her departure."
WWE is a publicly traded company, but McMahon still holds a majority of the shareholders' voting power, according to ESPN.