Vince McMahon Steps Down as WWE CEO Amid Scandal, Company Launches Investigation
Vince McMahon has voluntarily stepped down from his leadership responsibilities at WWE while the company’s board of directors investigates claims of alleged misconduct by the entertainment giant’s CEO and chairman and its head of talent relations, John Laurinaitis.
McMahon’s daughter, Stephanie McMahon, will replace him as interim CEO and chairwoman, WWE and the board announced in a Friday news release.
While McMahon will not be helming the company until the results of the board’s investigation come out, he will retain his responsibilities relating to the company’s creative content, the news release said.
“I have pledged my complete cooperation to the investigation by the Special Committee, and I will do everything possible to support the investigation,” McMahon said, according to the news release.
“I have also pledged to accept the findings and outcome of the investigation, whatever they are,” the CEO said.
The company’s board of directors began its investigation into McMahon and Laurinaitis in April after receiving tips of a secret January separation agreement between McMahon — who has been married to his wife, Linda, for 56 years — and a female WWE employee, The Wall Street Journal reported.
In a series of anonymous emails that began on March 30, an individual who said the former WWE paralegal was a friend began to inform the board of McMahon’s alleged affair and separation agreement.
The individual claimed that the 76-year-old CEO hired the paralegal in 2019, offering to pay her a salary of $100,000.
However, after McMahon began a relationship with her, he raised her salary to $200,000, the source said, according to the Wall Street Journal.
While the affair lasted, McMahon also allegedly “gave her like a toy” to Laurinaitis, the emails alleged.
When the relationship ended, the paralegal and McMahon came to a secret settlement wherein McMahon would pay the woman $3 million in exchange for her not discussing the duo’s relationship and not disparaging him, the Wall Street Journal reported.
“My friend was so scared so she quit after Vince McMahon and lawyer Jerry paid her millions of dollars to shut up,” the individual wrote in the first email to the board, according to the report.
“Jerry” referred to McMahon’s attorney, Jerry McDevitt, of the law firm K&L Gates.
Over the course of the investigation, details of previous separate nondisclosure agreements surfaced, sources told the Wall Street Journal. The board reportedly also learned of other claims by former female employees of alleged misconduct by McMahon and Laurinaitis.
According to one individual familiar with the investigation, the company’s directors received a copy of the $3 million settlement between McMahon and the paralegal on Sunday, the newspaper reported.
The nondisclosure agreement granted the former paralegal an upfront payment of $1 million, according to the report.
The remainder of the pledged money was scheduled to be paid to her over the course of five years, the sources said.
WWE’s board of eight independent directors has hired Simpson Thacher & Bartlett LLP, a New York-based law firm, to carry out the probe, a source told the Wall Street Journal.
“WWE and its Board of Directors take all allegations of misconduct very seriously,” the company said in the Friday news release.
The company said that on top of the probe into the CEO and head of talent relations, the company and the special committee “will work with an independent third-party to conduct a comprehensive review of the company’s compliance program, HR function and overall culture.”
I’m also told that elevating Stephanie to CEO, after she just left to focus on family, is an optics play to signal Vince McMahon has no intention of stepping down. https://t.co/dpUPxKiuGP
— Alex Sherman (@sherman4949) June 17, 2022
CNBC’s Alex Sherman reported that McMahon will appear as himself on WWE’s “Friday Night SmackDown” to “address his temporary absence.”
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