Class Action Suit Puts WWE on the Ropes

By Alec Brooks of Kazerouni Law Group, APC on Wednesday, July 20, 2016.

There are two types of wrestling in the United States: One features lanky teenagers in spandex grappling back and forth on an enlarged yoga mat in a sweaty gymnasium in front of their family and friends. That’s the type of wrestling that earns young people all over the country varsity patches, and if they’re lucky, a college scholarship. The other type is the same basic idea, combined with flame spitting tunnels, ladders, chairs, and nicknames like “Undertaker” or “Mastodon.” This type of wrestling can lead its participants to becoming the highest paid actor in the world, a la former WWE star Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson whose net worth is now over $125 million. Another key difference is that the latter, the WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment) plays a role in the outcome of its matches. The WWE helps direct and choreograph the table breaking, rafter leaping, glass shattering maneuvers made by its wrestlers. These death defying feats performed by professional wrestlers have drawn enough attention over the last 30 plus years to turn WWE CEO Vince Mcmahon into a billionaire. It’s a good thing Mcmahon has all that money, because as of Monday 53 former wrestlers have come together to file a class action lawsuit against him and the entire WWE.

The complaint alleges that the WWE must be held responsible for long term neurological injuries that the wrestlers suffered as a result of performing maneuvers that were not only approved but choreographed by the WWE themselves. The suit is 214 pages and was filed in the United States District Court in Connecticut on July 18th. A few of the more recognizable plaintiffs are Paul “Mr. Wonderful” Orndorff and Joseph “Road Warrior Animal” Laurinaitis. The majority of plaintiffs listed on the official complaint have their wrestling nicknames listed in addition to their formal names, which should lead to some colorful language in the court proceedings. The former wrestlers have dealt with concussions and also with CTE (Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy) a degenerative brain disease found in people who face repeated blows to the head. CTE has also come up in previous class action suits against the NFL and NHL. In May the NFL settled and will give $ 1 billion dollars to more than 20,000 players over the next 65 years. The NHL has yet to settle but is in the midst of a suit seeking to receive $5 million for more than 100 former hockey players.

A kid growing up playing hockey or football knows it’s a dangerous sport, and if they’re lucky enough to reach the very top level they’re well aware of the physical risks they will endure daily. Organizations like the NFL and NHL make tremendous profits from these athletes and thus should do their absolute best to keep them healthy. They can’t stop the players from getting hurt, because it’s a part of the game. However, they can invest in safer equipment, alter rules in order to cause less physical damage, and tighten up protocols for when a player suffers an injury. Both the NFL and NHL have done this and are continuing to pour money into player safety research. The WWE has done almost none of that, and to an outsider it seems so simple considering that the WWE knows more or less exactly what’s going to happen in every fight and where the dangers lie. It isn’t only the injuries that concern this class action suit. The suit also alleges that the league, “Effectively eliminated WWE’s wrestlers’ knowledge of any employment rights they had under federal and state law.” The WWE classifies its wrestlers as independent contractors instead of salaried employees and provides them with no health insurance or opportunities to unionize. Now when a wrestler dislocates his shoulder after being hit from behind with a chair he’ll be forced to reach into his own pocket to cover his medical expenses, not to mention the medical expenses of his family.

It would be easy to write off professional wrestlers in the WWE and have little empathy for them. After all, they’re paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to perform fairly silly stunts and cheesy inauthentic acting in front of millions of people each year. However, are the problems they face in their workplace that much different than the ones employees face all across the United States? Their chance for injury is probably comparable to a construction worker, but construction workers have the ability to unionize and in some cases are provided with health insurance. Lyft and Uber drivers, like WWE wrestlers have been labeled as independent contractors. Because of that the drivers have forced the rideshare companies into around a combined $900 million in settlements over the past year. King Kong Bundy and The Crippler might not sound like the easiest men to relate to, but understand their problems are universal. Even if you just go by a more tame name like Peter or Allen, if you feel like your place of business isn’t looking out for your health or best interests, or is bending employment rules to make themselves more money please contact Kazerouni Law Group at 800-400-6808 and we can help you pin down the employment rights you deserve.

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