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Former WWE employee accuses Vince McMahon of sex trafficking

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

A woman who worked for the wrestling giant WWE is suing the former chief executive, Vince McMahon, for sexual exploitation. McMahon is now the executive chairman of TKO, the parent company of the WWE. His accuser, Jenelle Grant, is also suing the WWE entity, and another former executive. Reporter Khadeeja Safdar broke this story for The Wall Street Journal. And she joins me now to discuss. Just a warning, though, that the allegations in this lawsuit are violent and graphic. Good morning, Khadeeja.

KHADEEJA SAFDAR: Good morning. Thank you for having me.

FADEL: Thank you for being here. So tell me who Jenelle Grant is and what she says McMahon and the WWE did to her.

SAFDAR: Jenelle Grant is a former employee at the wrestling firm's headquarters. She signed a nondisclosure agreement in 2022, in which McMahon agreed to pay $3 million for her not to disclose the relationship or disparage him. WWE later received an anonymous tip that year about the relationship, and they started a board investigation. He left the company amid that investigation, then came back soon after. This lawsuit says that McMahon stopped making those payments after the initial $1 million installment, and it seeks to void the NDA and seeks damages.

This is the first time we're really getting to see what the nature of the relationship is from her point of view. It describes very graphic details of sexual abuse. She says that she was trafficked to multiple executives. There's scenes and anecdotes in which she describes being locked in offices and having - being sexually assaulted. And it describes the course of a relationship in which she's essentially groomed and then pressured to do - like, for example, introduction of sex toys and then introducing third parties into their relationship later on. And I think you did give the warning earlier that it's pretty graphic.

FADEL: Yeah. I mean, you're describing some pretty horrific things if they happened. I mean, what does Grant say she wants out of this lawsuit?

SAFDAR: She said that she wants to ensure that no other women are victimized.

FADEL: Now, this isn't the first time McMahon has been accused of misconduct. He retired from the WWE temporarily in 2022 after, as you said, your paper reported that he paid other women who made similar allegations. How are all these cases connected?

SAFDAR: There's just a pattern of behavior, especially with the payouts. When they did the board investigation, a law firm was hired, and the investigation found $14.6 million in payouts by the CEO to women who had accused him of sexual misconduct. And we revealed that in the Journal earlier.

FADEL: And what has McMahon said about these accusations?

SAFDAR: He said that the lawsuit is filled with lies, obscene, made-up instances that never occurred and a vindictive distortion of the truth and that he will vigorously defend himself.

FADEL: Wall Street Journal reporter Khadeeja Safdar. Thank you, Khadeeja.

SAFDAR: Thank you.

FADEL: We reached out to the WWE for comment and received a statement from its parent company, TKO, that said the matter predates their executive team's tenure at the company and that they take Jenelle Grant's allegations very seriously and are addressing the matter internally. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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