Monday, June 20, 2022

The 8th nominee for the “Worst Employer of 2022” is … Vince McMahon

Over the years (for now former) WWE Chairman and CEO Vince McMahon has been accused of some awful treatment of employees. For starters, wrestling's first ever female referee accused him of rape after she refused to perform fellatio on him. And then there was 1994's criminal trial in which the United States accused McMahon of supplying illegal steroids to wrestlers. (For the record, McMahon was exonerated of both allegations.) These allegations don't include others of mistreatment of wrestlers, such as allegedly allowing for the unsafe working conditions that led to the in-ring death of Owen Hart, or not providing wrestlers health insurance because they are classified as independent contractors and not as employees.

But it's the allegations against Mr. McMahon that The Wall Street Journal brought to light last week that has earned him his nomination as the Worst Employer of 2022.

According to the WSJ, the WWE's board of directors is investigating a secret $3 million settlement that McMahon agreed to pay to a departing employee (an in-house paralegal) with whom he allegedly had an affair.

But that's not even what's earned McMahon his nomination. After all, I'm not naive enough to believe that Vince is the first CEO ever to have a secret affair with a subordinate. It's the circumstances of the affair that make you say "ick" and "wow."

It is alleged that McMahon took advantage of the down-on-her-luck paralegal who had fallen on hard times before joining WWE due in part to time spent away from the workforce tending to a sick parent and told co-workers of needing extra money. The WSJ claims that McMahon hired her at a starting salary of $100,000 but doubled it after starting his (allegedly consensual) affair with her. The employee quit out of fear, according to the WSJ, which then adds that McMahon provided her a non-disclosure agreement to keep quiet about their relationship. Under that agreement, McMahon would pay her $1 million up front and another $2 million spread out over five years. 

(For the record, it's a clear violation of WWE's Code of Business Conduct to "grant or offer of an employment quid pro quo for personal intimacy.")

What scared this employee into quitting? Perhaps it's the allegation that McMahon "gave her like a toy" to John Laurinaitis, the WWE's head of talent relations, one of its top executives, and McMahon's right-hand man.

The WWE's board's investigation has preliminarily unearthed other, older NDAs with other former female WWE employees and also involving claims of misconduct by McMahon and Laurinaitis. It appears that McMahon made all of the payments personally, and that none of the money funding any of these NDAs came from the WWE.

According to a WWE press release, "McMahon has voluntarily stepped back from his responsibilities as CEO and Chairman of the Board until the conclusion of the investigation," but will "retain his role and responsibilities related to WWE’s creative content." In the meantime, a Special Committee of the board has appointed McMahon's daughter, Stephanie, to serve as interim CEO and Chairwoman. 

Given the fact that McMahon (a) owns 38% of WWE's equity and controls 81% of the voting units, and (b) that he's survived every single scandal that's ever threatened to take him down, color me skeptical that this scandal will end any differently. Of course, it should go without saying that McMahon's ownership of or executive status with the company should play no role in the outcome of the board's investigation. But time will tell.

My bottom line — If you secretly pay an employee $3 million to keep quiet about an affair, during which you passed her around like a sex toy to your co-workers, you might be the worst employer of 2022.

* Image by justin moody from jacksonville, United States, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons