First Look at WWE’s Consensual Relationship Policy Established in 2023

Photo Courtesy: WWE

By: John Pollock & Brandon Thurston

WWE established a policy on sexual or romantic relationships in the workplace in June 2023. The rules were adopted one year after news of alleged sexual misconduct involving former Chairman and CEO Vince McMahon made headlines.

The three-page policy was obtained by POST Wrestling and Wrestlenomics and is available here publicly for the first time.

“An employee shall not exercise responsibility (instructional, evaluative, or supervisory) for any affiliated individual with whom the employee has or had a consensual relationship,” the policy states.

It contains some specific language about the company’s top executives.

“WWE strongly discourages consensual relationships involving any WWE Board Member, or executive team member, such as the CEO, President, CFO, Chief Content Officer, Chief Legal Officer, or Chief Human Resources Officer.”

Note: We redacted a website address and phone number that the policy directs employees to use for reporting ethics violations, to minimize non-employees misusing those contacts.

Current and former WWE employees we contacted for this story couldn’t recall any specific policy addressing consensual relationships involving personnel that predates this one.

Dr. Lisa Mainiero, Professor of Management at Fairfield University, has authored books and published numerous scholarly articles on power and gender dynamics in the workplace.

“Most corporations have strict anti-harassment policies, but only about thirty percent have consensual romance policies, according to the Society of Human Resources Management surveys,” Mainiero told us.

“Some firms go as far as to request a ‘love contract’ where both parties sit with HR and claim the romance is indeed consensual, and if any harassment occurs, it will be reported to HR and that employee will be protected.”

Along those lines, WWE’s current policy includes a “Consensual Relationship Acknowledgement” form.

“This is an ‘okay’ policy, better than most, but still inadequate,” Mainiero said after reviewing the document. “However, [WWE] did not address the issue of hierarchical relationships,” where one person in the relationship is subordinate to the other, “which are certainly a conflict of interest.”

Though Mainiero noted: “I am pleased to see they included ‘affiliated relationships’ as part of their policy.”

That section of the policy says relationships between an employee and any independent contractor, including talent, “must abide by the Consensual Relationship Policy”.

Professor Michael Z. Green, Director of the Workplace Law Program at Texas A&M University’s School of Law also assessed the policy for this story.

“In my opinion, this language does not go far enough,” Green said of the section headed “Prohibitions Regarding Consensual Relationships.”

Green suggested revising the portion that reads, “WWE strongly discourages consensual relationships involving any WWE Board Member, or executive team member such as the CEO, President, CFO, Chief Content Officer, Chief Legal Officer, or Chief Human Resources Officer.”

Instead, Green says, “[I]t should say that if any such officer seeks to engage in a consensual relationship with a subordinate or does engage in a purported consensual relationship with a subordinate, the WWE can consider such action as bad judgment warranting cause for immediate termination from the executive position the person holds.”

The policy doesn’t spell out specific consequences for executives but generally states: “Violation of this policy may result in disciplinary action up to and including termination.”

WWE declined to provide a comment to us regarding criticisms of the policy.

Regardless of rules covering consensual relationships, however, Janel Grant, clearly states McMahon violated her consent. In January she filed a lawsuit against WWE, McMahon, and former executive John Laurinaitis, alleging she was the victim of sex trafficking and sexual assault. The complaint contains numerous descriptions of sexual assault and degradation, in which McMahon allegedly exuded power over her in sexual situations involving both himself and other men.

Laurinaitis, whom Grant also accused of assaulting her, claims that he too was a victim under McMahon’s control.

McMahon resigned from all roles at WWE and parent TKO the day after the complaint was filed. Despite stepping down, his spokesperson insisted the lawsuit was “a vindictive distortion of the truth.”

What responsibilities did executives have

Four other WWE executives allegedly knew about Grant’s relationship with McMahon, including current WWE President Nick Khan, current Chief Operating Officer Brad Blum, former executive Stephanie McMahon, and former General Counsel Brian Nurse.

Grant is suing not just McMahon and Laurinaitis, but WWE itself. She claims the company “and its most senior officials, knew about and fostered a culture where the venture of harassment and sexual exploitation of women was tolerated to further the business and financial interests of WWE.”

“WWE takes Ms. Grant’s allegations very seriously and has no tolerance for any physical abuse or unwanted physical contact,” a WWE spokesperson said in a statement earlier this month. “Neither Nick Khan nor Brad Blum, prior to the lawsuit being filed on January 25, 2024, were aware of any allegation by Ms. Grant that she was the victim of abuse or unwanted physical contact; nor does the complaint allege that either had knowledge of such.”

The absence of a policy on consensual relationships at the time of Grant’s employment complicates the question of whether executives who may have known about the CEO’s relationship with a subordinate, but not about the alleged abuse, had an obligation to intervene.

“It is my personal belief that such a power disparity as described here [involving Grant and McMahon] would raise eyebrows and other executives should have gone to HR to alert them to the issue,” Mainiero said.

“I find it uniquely vile and disgusting for someone at the CEO level to attempt to engage in what is purported to be a consensually sexual relationship with a lower level subordinate given the power differential,” Green said.

“I would say in general that any managers who are aware of such relationships and fail to address it or even condone or support it are also at a minimum making a bad decision and exercising poor judgment,” Green added.

According to the company’s new guidelines, if an executive engages in a relationship, they must disclose such an arrangement to the lead independent board member, Steve Koonin.

Under the prior leadership, the lead independent board member was Man Jit Singh. When McMahon forced his way back into the company, Singh and fellow board member Ignace Lahoud resigned from their positions. Board Members JoEllen Lyons Dillons, Jeffrey R. Speed, and Alan M. Wexler were removed from the Board with McMahon appointing former WWE co-presidents George Barrios and Michelle Wilson. Stephanie McMahon resigned from her roles as co-CEO and Board Member days later.

McMahon’s power at WWE

Grant was given a newly-created role at WWE in June 2019, through her relationship with McMahon. Throughout her tenure, Grant was moved around to the XFL and later, to WWE’s Department of Talent Relations under Laurinaitis.

Grant says she struggled in the work environment. Her lawsuit outlined a job where she was tasked with minimal work and felt she needed more onboarding.

In her lawsuit, Grant describes McMahon’s position in WWE as “omnipotent” with Grant succumbing to coercive tactics, which she labeled as “depraved sexual demands”.

Grant alleges others in the company were aware of her relationship with McMahon, and “sought to conceal the wrongdoing”. She says she suffered panic attacks on a near-daily basis inside the office but no one around her chose to get involved.

There were hardly any checks on McMahon’s power at WWE. He held approximately thirty-six percent of company stock, but about eighty percent of the voting power thanks to his “super shares” which gave each of his shares ten times the number of votes compared to common shares.

There was no better demonstration of his power than in January 2023 when McMahon undid his resignation from the company five months earlier. He showed he was not even beholden to WWE’s Board of Directors, and unilaterally reinstalled himself as Executive Chairman despite the Board’s unanimous rejection of his return days prior.

This imbalance suggests few, if any, guardrails were in place to properly discipline McMahon for an inappropriate relationship, such as the one outlined in Grant’s suit. The mere existence of a sexual relationship would be subject to the recent policy adjustments.

Grant’s allegations are far from the earliest claims of sexual misconduct against McMahon involving people he employed at WWE.

Last year, McMahon came to a multimillion-dollar settlement with Rita Chatterton, a former WWF referee, who alleges he raped her in 1986. Related to allegations from 2005, a $7.5 million agreement was made with a former talent. Due to allegations from 2006, a $1 million deal was made with a former employee. Following allegations from 2008, a $1 million nondisclosure agreement was reportedly made with a former WWE contractor. Related to allegations from 2012, McMahon made a $1.5 million NDA with a former employee with sexual misconduct allegations involving Laurinaitis.

The uniqueness of the Grant relationship is that it did not begin after she had already been hired by the company, but was a pre-existing one with McMahon, who allegedly created a new position based solely on his ability to do so. 

There were enough red flags that a proposed promotion to a Vice President role with the Talent Relations department for Grant was reduced to a lesser Director position “to avoid suspicion of a sudden promotion to vice president.” There was concern within McMahon’s circle, according to Grant, of the appearance of her having favored status. But McMahon still promised a future VP role for her, she says.

McMahon lost his preferred voting power as a result of the TKO merger last year, which makes a return to the company less likely following his most recent resignation.

WWE executives’ previous comments on policies

This is the first time the public has seen the policy, although changes have been alluded to by company officials.

Shawn Michaels, Senior Vice President of Talent Development Creative, spoke during a February call with media about changes made to policies for safeguarding talent and employees.

“[WWE’s policies] were upgraded in 2022,” Michaels said but noted he didn’t recall the specifics of the policy changes.

“I won’t lie. I could care less what anybody puts down on a piece of paper and not to imply that I don’t care about it,” Michaels, who oversees talent at NXT, continued. “It’s just I feel like if it’s done genuinely and sincerely, looking out for our talent, nothing is more important than that. As long as everybody in this building [the WWE Performance Center] understands that. And if they don’t, the consequences are what they are. They’re going to be gone. But again, from my standpoint, I want all of our talent treated with respect that they deserve and that they’ve earned.”

One day after Vince McMahon’s resignation in January, Chief Content Officer Paul Levesque vaguely addressed measures being taken in the aftermath of Grant’s lawsuit being filed, during a press conference after the Royal Rumble event.

“I’ll give you the most generalized answer that I can: Everything possible,” Levesque said. “And that is a very important thing to us, a very important topic to us. It is as simple as everything possible.”

When asked if Levesque had read the 67-page lawsuit filed by Grant two days earlier, he admitted he had not.

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About John Pollock 5623 Articles
Born on a Friday, John Pollock is a reporter, editor & podcaster at POST Wrestling. He runs and owns POST Wrestling alongside Wai Ting.