STAMFORD, Conn. – Vince McMahon Jr. has “voluntarily stepped back” as CEO and chairman of WWE while the company’s board of directors investigates claims of misconduct, the company said Friday.
McMahon’s move comes after a report from The Wall Street Journal. The newspaper, citing documents and people familiar with the situation, said that the $3 million agreement struck by McMahon, 76, was intended to prevent a departing employee, who was hired as a paralegal in 2019, from disclosing her relationship with the longtime WWE executive or making critical statements about him.
McMahon’s daughter, Stephanie McMahon, who is also a WWE executive, will replace her father on an interim basis, WWE said in a statement. Stephanie McMahon had taken a leave of absence from the company in May.
“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 in a statement. “I have also pledged to accept the findings and outcome of the investigation, whatever they are.”
WWE said it does not expect to have further comment until the investigation has ended, Variety reported.
“I love this company and am committed to working with the independent directors to strengthen our culture and our company; it is extremely important to me that we have a safe and collaborative workplace,” Stephanie McMahon said in a statement. “I have committed to doing everything in my power to help the special committee complete its work, including marshaling the cooperation of the entire company to assist in the completion of the investigation and to implement its findings.”
Vince McMahon will retain his role related to WWE’s creative content while the investigation is ongoing, the company said in its news release. He may even appear as a character during wrestling matches, CNN reported.
The probe, which began in April, also reportedly discovered similar pacts made with former female workers on behalf of John Laurinaitis, a former wrestler who currently manages talent relations for WWE, the Los Angeles Times reported.
WWE said in its statement on Friday that it takes “all allegations of misconduct very seriously” and it has engaged independent legal services to assist with the review.
The board’s eight independent directors have retained New York-based law firm Simpson Thacher & Bartlett LLP to conduct the investigation, The Wall Street Journal reported, citing an anonymous source. Preliminary findings showed that Vince McMahon used personal funds to pay former female employees who signed the agreements, including the one involving allegations against Laurinaitis.
In a letter to The Wall Street Journal, McMahon’s attorney, Jerry McDevitt, said that the former employee had not made any claims of harassment against the WWE’s CEO and that the organization “did not pay any monies” to her “on her departure.”
McDevitt, a Pittsburgh-based partner at law firm K&L Gates, has represented WWE and McMahon for decades, according to The Wall Street Journal. He defended them in the 1990s against federal charges of distributing and conspiring to distribute steroids to WWE wrestlers, winning an acquittal in 1994.
Vince McMahon Jr. built WWE into a worldwide organization, shattering the former concept of “territories” that were part of a “gentlemen’s agreement” between promoters, including the World Wide Wrestling Federation (now WWE), which was founded and run by McMahon’s father, Vince McMahon Sr. Promotions such as the National Wrestling Alliance, American Wrestling Alliance and WWWF maintained territorial borders and did not infringe on other promotions.
Vince McMahon Jr. changed that during the 1980s, offering professional wrestling matches on national television and hosting major events such as WrestleMania. Stars from the WWE stable have included Hulk Hogan, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and Steve Austin.
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