Vince McMahon resigns from TKO day after ex-employee's lawsuit

Vince McMahon, who co-founded the modern WWE in 1982, has resigned from his role as TKO executive chairman and from his position on the TKO board of directors, he said in a statement provided to ESPN on Friday night.

McMahon, 78, leaves the publicly traded company -- which was formed when UFC merged with WWE last year -- following a lawsuit filed Thursday that accuses him of sexual misconduct.

In the lawsuit, Janel Grant, who worked in WWE's legal and talent departments, alleges that McMahon forced her into a sexual relationship in order for her to obtain and keep her job and passed around pornographic pictures and videos of her to other men, including other employees. The lawsuit, which was filed in U.S. District Court in Connecticut, where WWE is headquartered, also names WWE and John Laurinaitis, the company's former head of talent relations and general manager, as defendants.

Grant alleges abuse and sexual exploitation beginning in March 2020, and the lawsuit included several text message screenshots that purported to be McMahon asking for depraved sexual acts.

"I stand by my prior statement that Ms. Grant's lawsuit is replete with lies, obscene made-up instances that never occurred, and is a vindictive distortion of the truth," McMahon said in the statement. "I intend to vigorously defend myself against these baseless accusations, and look forward to clearing my name.

"However, out of respect for the WWE Universe, the extraordinary TKO business and its board members and shareholders, partners and constituents, and all of the employees and Superstars who helped make WWE into the global leader it is today, I have decided to resign from my executive chairmanship and the TKO board of directors, effective immediately."

McMahon, a multibillionaire, stepped down as WWE's CEO in 2022 amid an investigation into allegations that match those in the lawsuit.

"I wanted to inform you that Vince McMahon has tendered his resignation from his positions as TKO Executive Chairman and on the TKO Board of Directors," WWE president Nick Khan told all staff in a memo obtained by ESPN on Friday night. "He will no longer have a role with TKO Group holdings or WWE."

Grant signed a nondisclosure agreement in 2022 in connection with an agreement from McMahon to pay her $3 million. WWE started a board investigation that same year after it received an anonymous tip about the improper relationship.

In the lawsuit, Grant said McMahon paid $1 million but stopped making payments thereafter. She seeks to void the NDA along with receiving unspecified financial damages.

The 67-page lawsuit also implicated a "former UFC heavyweight champion with whom WWE was actively trying to sign to a new contract."

Grant's representatives said she wished to go public with her allegations.

"Ms. Grant hopes that her lawsuit will prevent other women from being victimized," her attorney, Ann Callis, said in a statement Thursday. "The organization is well aware of Mr. McMahon's history of depraved behavior, and it's time that they take responsibility for the misconduct of its leadership."

McMahon briefly retired from WWE in July 2022 following revelations of multiple payouts to several women connected to sexual misconduct allegations. The internal investigation conducted by an outside law firm found $14.6 million in payments by McMahon.

WWE said that November that McMahon had repaid the company, and he was soon back with the organization.

McMahon is credited with revolutionizing the pro wrestling industry and bringing it into the mainstream. The third-generation promoter purchased the then-WWF in 1982 from his father and two years later bet big on his idea with the debut of WrestleMania. The annual extravaganza -- wrestling's Super Bowl -- will hold its 40th edition this April in Philadelphia.

Earlier this week, Hollywood star Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson was appointed to the TKO board and received the trademark to his famous moniker, which WWE owned.

Also this week, WWE completed a 10-year deal in excess of $5 billion with Netflix to stream "Raw," the promotion's weekly flagship program, beginning next January.

WWE's "Friday Night SmackDown" will shift from Fox to USA in the fall, while its monthly premium live events are streamed on Peacock. One of WWE's top four annual events, Royal Rumble, takes place Saturday in St. Petersburg, Florida.

McMahon's son-in-law, WWE Hall of Fame wrestler Paul "Triple H" Levesque, oversees the organization's creative direction. McMahon previously held that role from the WWF's inception in 1982 until his previous resignation in July 2022.

WWE merged in April with the company that runs UFC to create the $21.4 billion sports entertainment company TKO Group Holdings.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.