World Wrestling Entertainment‘s board is investigating a $3 million hush-money settlement that CEO Vince McMahon paid a woman over an alleged affair, The Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday, citing documents and people familiar with the matter.
The agreement, which was struck in January, is intended to prevent the woman, who had worked as a paralegal for the company, from discussing her relationship with McMahon or making critical statements about the chief executive, the Journal added.
A WWE spokesman told the newspaper that the company is cooperating with the board’s investigation and that the relationship between McMahon and the woman was consensual.
McMahon, 76, is married to Linda McMahon, who served as CEO of WWE and as Small Business Administration chief in the administration of former President Donald Trump, who is a WWE Hall of Famer.
The report said the board’s investigation, which started in April, also revealed nondisclosure pacts related to misconduct claims from other women who had worked at WWE. These agreements involved McMahon and WWE talent executive John Laurinaitis, who wrestled under the name Johnny Ace, the Journal added.
WWE didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment from CNBC.
The board retained Simpson Thacher & Bartlett LLP, a New York-based law firm, to conduct the investigation, a source told the Journal. The firm didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment from CNBC.
McMahon’s lawyer, Jerry McDevitt, was not immediately available for comment. McDevitt told the Journal that the former employee didn’t make any harassment claims against McMahon. He also said that WWE didn’t pay her any money, the paper said.
The news comes at a pivotal time for the wrestling-entertainment company. In May, executive Stephanie McMahon, the daughter of Vince and Linda McMahon, took a leave of absence from most of her responsibilities at the 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 at the time.
WWE has also been the subject of speculation over a potential sale and its media rights. It has deals with Fox, USA Network, Hulu and NBCUniversal’s Peacock streaming service. The Hulu deal expires this year.
The company is publicly traded, but McMahon owns the majority of WWE’s voting shares. He took over the company from his father, also named Vince McMahon, in 1982. Under the younger McMahon’s oversight, the WWE, then known as the World Wrestling Federation, became a global juggernaut. In the decades since, the company has spawned superstars such as Hulk Hogan, Bret “The Hitman” Hart, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and Dave Bautista.
This is far from McMahon’s first brush with controversy. In 1993, he was indicted on federal charges related to anabolic steroids, which he and several professional wrestlers in the WWF stable used. He was acquitted of the charges in 1994. McMahon and the company also came under fire in 1999 for continuing a show after superstar Owen Hart, a brother of Bret’s, fell to his death from an arena’s rafters while staging a stunt. The company eventually agreed to pay the Hart family $18 million over the wrestler’s death.
Read the full Wall Street Journal report here.
Disclosure: NBCUniversal is the parent company of CNBC.
— CNBC’s Candice Choi contributed to this report.
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