Legal expert CJ Donald on WWE Consensual Relationships Policy, evaluating allegations against Vince McMahon

Photo Courtesy: WWE

A recently obtained document revealed a “Consensual Relationships Policy” that WWE released in June 2023, more than a year after former Chairman and CEO Vince McMahon stepped down from his role due to alleged sexual misconduct.

The policy requires employees to disclose consensual relationships with coworkers to human resources and address any conflict of interest problems that may arise. It prevents any employee from having a relationship with anyone they have a salary, promotion, tenure or employment status control over, or anyone whom they conduct performance evaluations for.

It is also mentioned in the policy “strongly discourages” anyone on the board, or in the positions “CEO, President, CFO, Chief Contender Officer, Chief Legal Officer, or Chief Human Resources Officer” from having a relationship with any other employee.

With the newly-enforced policy now publicly known, it calls into question what potential failures WWE had systematically that allowed alleged workplace misconduct between McMahon and a lower-ranked employee.

In a lawsuit filed by former WWE staffer Janel Grant, she alleges that McMahon sexually assaulted, trafficked, and abused her. In the lawsuit, she claims that other executives within the company were aware that McMahon and Grant had a relationship that provided a massive power imbalance.

Legal expert CJ Donald says that even if Grant didn’t accuse McMahon of committing abuses, the power imbalance in their relationship could still be considered not consensual. While Donald said work relationships can be consensual, there were details about Grant and McMahon were nowhere near that.

“It is possible, but not in this situation,” Donald said in a recent episode of Pollock & Thurston. “It’s only possible in a situation where the employees are a similar rank or same rank, and then one ends up surpassing the other later. This obviously, is: person owns a company then decides to bring in someone at a lower level. That is a totally different type of situation.”

In the policy, both online and phone tip lines were provided for employees to report instances of workplace misconduct. While WWE previously established a sexual harassment policy, sources close to POST Wrestling and Wrestlenomics who have worked in the company “couldn’t recall” if any type of consensual relationship policy previously existed.

Even before the specific policy existed, an argument could be made that those who were aware of it, even if they just knew the face-value details, should have reported it.

Donald questioned what other executives who knew about the relationship felt about it. It was reported last month that Nick Khan and Brad Blum were Corporate Officers No. 1 and No. 2 in the lawsuit, although neither is alleged to have known about abuses committed by McMahon. Even before the policy was put in place last year, Donald asked if there was a potential duty for known executives to report the issue.

“The question is whether the executives who knew about the relationship felt the relationship would either negatively impact the company or result in financial harm to the company … Execs and the board members have a legal duty to protect the company’s bottom line.”

There remains a big question about the McMahon lawsuit that likely won’t become uncovered for a long time: “Who else knew about this besides the executives that we know?” Donald said. “[Were there] other coworkers of Janel Grant that knew about this, the talent that knew about this?”

Donald mentioned that many fear reporting workplace abuse, especially if an overpowered boss like McMahon once is the alleged abuser. He wanted to provide a reminder that reporting said incidents is protected for employers.

“Whether it’s a demotion, you miss a bonus, you miss a check, you miss a work opportunity, you get fired, you can then sue the company for that,” he said. “The problem is that people usually aren’t savvy enough to go through that process or willing to go through that process.”

Despite a massive lawsuit being filed against one of the most influential names in the history of wrestling, it seemingly hasn’t created a massive change in the business of the WWE, which is a co-defendant in the lawsuit. WWE has continued to sell out weekly events and has a healthy stock price under TKO Group Holdings.

Donald believes that public attention on the case will increase if it goes to trial, but the lack of eyes given to it currently also reflects a sports culture in the U.S.

“I think if we get to a trial in this case and it gets to more facts being pushed out, people will push back a little bit,” he explained. “But frankly, this is how America is. Our sports are supreme, and when people do bad things, especially our sports heroes, we try to forgive them … I think it’s probably not wise that we do that, but it’s our culture.”

About Jack Wannan 256 Articles
Jack Wannan is a journalist from Toronto, Ontario, Canada. He writes and reports on professional wrestling, along with other topics like MMA, boxing, music, local news, and more. He graduated from Toronto Metropolitan University in 2023 with a bachelor's degree in journalism. He can be reached at [email protected]