XFL's Vince McMahon Claims Oliver Luck Fired For "Gross Neglect"
UPDATE: An newly disclosed affidavit from Oliver Luck further addresses McMahon’s claims. See below.
Lawyers for XFL Owner Vince McMahon say former league Commissioner & CEO Oliver Luck was fired for “gross neglect” of his job during the early days of the coronavirus pandemic, personal use of a league-issued iPhone and signing former NFLer Antonio Callaway despite McMahon’s orders to avoid players with troubled legal histories.
The allegations came to light in new filings in federal court in Connecticut today, where Luck is suing McMahon for breach of contract stemming from his dismissal April 9, four days before the XFL filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.
Originally, Luck had redacted most of the specifics of the dispute. McMahon’s attorneys detailed some of the complaints in a pre-trial motion posted publicly today.
In the original complaint, Luck said he “wholly disputes and rejects the allegations set forth in the Termination Letter and contends they are pretextual and devoid of merit.” Luck elaborated on his defense in a new affidavit filed today, including, for the first time publicly, the full sum he is seeking from McMahon, which McMahon personally guaranteed in his original contract: $23.8M, remaining from a contract that originally called for $7M annually over 5 years, plus extensive benefits.
According to today’s filing, McMahon listed three reasons for firing Luck:
- Luck left the XFL's Connecticut HQ for his home in Indiana on March 13 and “disengage[d] from the XFL’s operations,” according to the filing. McMahon further claims Luck did not inform him of his intentions. "Put simply, at the very moment when his leadership as CEO was needed most, Luck did not devote substantially all of his business time to the XFL, as required by his contract.” In his affidavit, Luck says he continued to work remotely on XFL matters after the XFL closed its offices on March 15: “During this time, I communicated with McMahon via text messages, McMahon's preferred method of communication. McMahon was well aware of my efforts as evidenced by his responses to my text messages.”
- Luck signed Callaway, a former Browns WR, to a draft contract promising a $125,000 signing bonus without informing McMahon, even though he was aware that McMahon asked for final approval rights to any player with a questionable background. The filing continues on that “Luck failed to promptly terminate Callaway in accordance with McMahon’s instructions,” and then Callaway injured his knee in a Tampa Bay Vipers practice, which triggered medical costs and worker’s compensation costs for the startup. "The cost to the XFL of this episode of gross negligence was in excess of six figures,” McMahon’s filing reads. Luck says the signing of Callaway did not violate any XFL policies: “Indeed, to the contrary, McMahon had instructed me to upgrade the quality of receivers in the XFL. The signing of Callaway, which I informed McMahon (without any objection by him) prior to the signing, did just that. And, when McMahon told me, during the week of January 26, 2020, that he wanted Callaway terminated, I promptly followed his instruction. He never played a single down in the XFL.”
- Luck used his league-issued iPhone for personal matters, according to McMahon’s lawyers. Luck did not address the claim in his new affidavit. “It’s just silly,” said Luck’s lawyer Paul Dobrowski, adding that none of these cases triggered a formal notice to Luck before his firing.
In today’s filing, McMahon acknowledged that he personally guaranteed XFL parent Alpha Entertainment’s contract with Luck. That personal guarantee provides the basis for Luck to sue McMahon rather than appeal to the U.S. bankruptcy court overseeing the unwinding of the XFL. But the guarantee would be moot if a court finds the reasons for his firing were valid.
The filing today was signed by longtime WWE attorney Jerry McDevitt, a partner at K&L Gates in Pittsburgh. It was in opposition to a request by Luck’s team for a pre-judgment award of damages on the basis that his suit was likely to succeed, which is allowed under certain circumstances.