In a ruling that reignites the possibility of Cristiano Ronaldo facing public trial for allegedly assaulting Kathryn Mayorga in a Las Vegas penthouse suite 11 years ago, U.S. District Judge Jennifer Dorsey has rejected a magistrate judge’s recommendation to move Mayorga’s lawsuit to private arbitration.
Mayorga, 36, sued the 35-year-old Juventus star in 2018 for battery, intentional infliction of emotional distress, abuse of a vulnerable person and related claims. The former model asserts that in 2009, after meeting Ronaldo in a nightclub, he invited her to his penthouse. There, Mayorga claims, he raped and sodomized her.
Ronaldo, whom the Portugal national team revealed this morning has tested positive for COVID-19, has dismissed Mayorga’s portrayal as “fake news.” The Las Vegas Metro Police Department investigated the incident in 2009 and again in 2018 but declined to pursue charges. The criminal case is considered closed.
Attorneys for Ronaldo insist that Mayorga’s lawsuit is preempted by a settlement agreement. In 2010, Ronaldo agreed to pay Mayorga $375,000 in exchange for her relinquishing possible legal claims. The agreement also compelled confidentiality and instructed that disputes over the agreement must be resolved out-of-court, namely through arbitration. Both Ronaldo and Mayorga were represented by legal counsel. Both signed the contract, initialed each page and initialed the arbitration provision.
Mayorga insists the settlement is unenforceable. She argues she lacked the legal capacity to enter into a binding contract. Mayorga asserts the psychological distress of having been sexually assaulted prevented her from understanding the settlement and its implications. She also maintains that public policy considerations should void the settlement on grounds it conceals a sexual assault.
Earlier this year, U.S. Magistrate Judge Daniel Albregts issued a report recommending the dispute be resolved through arbitration. He stressed that both Mayorga and Ronaldo clearly waived the right to a jury trial and assented to arbitration. Judge Albregts also found Mayorga’s public policy argument unconvincing. Although nondisclosure agreements can be voided in Nevada on account of concealing sexual abuse and harassment, that possibility occurs in the employer-employee context.
On Sept. 30, Judge Dorsey partially rejected Judge Albregts’s recommendation. While agreeing on the role of public policy, she noted that the Federal Arbitration Act—which governs settlements where there is a monetary exchange between in-state and out-of-state residents—applies since Mayorga was a Nevada resident and Ronaldo resided abroad. Pursuant to the Act, when one side disputes the making of the arbitration agreement, a court must resolve whether a valid contract was formed. Mayorga, the judge highlighted, maintains she lacked the mental capacity to contract. To that end, Mayorga has provided supporting statements from both a psychiatrist and therapist.
Ronaldo could appeal Judge Dorsey’s ruling to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, but he would face challenging odds. Federal appeals courts often reject petitions when additional aspects of a case are pending.
According to court records obtained by Sportico, Judge Dorsey has ordered attorneys for Mayorga and Ronaldo to submit their proposed plan to adjudicate the mental-capacity issue in a bench trial. The trial could happen next year. If Mayorga prevails and nullifies the settlement’s arbitration provision, a separate trial involving Mayorga’s battery and other claims could occur.
A trial where Mayorga testifies about the incident would involve graphic and moving testimony. Her chilling account, including her assertion that Ronaldo jumped on her and that she repeatedly yelled “no” while being anally raped, is detailed by Der Spiegel. The seriousness of the underlying accusations would quickly become apparent.
The prospect of Ronaldo appearing in a Las Vegas courtroom to face an allegation that he raped a woman would draw significant media coverage. Nevada law permits cameras in the courtroom, meaning hearings could be televised. The COVID-19 pandemic—which has led courts to conduct hearings by video conferencing in lieu of in-person—presents the possibility of Ronaldo appearing by video.
Ronaldo, a native of Portugal who resides in Italy, can’t be compelled to participate in a civil trial in the United States. However, if he declines to appear or testify, the court would be inclined to enter a judgment against him and determine monetary damages.
Ronaldo is one of the most marketable and affluent athletes of this generation. Forbes recently estimated his career earnings at more than $1 billion. Ronaldo’s endorsement list is long and impressive. It includes a lifetime deal with Nike as well as lucrative endorsements with DAZN, Altice and other prominent businesses. He also has his own apparel line and hotel chain.
Yet the assault allegation has tarnished Ronaldo’s brand. Two years ago, EA removed Ronaldo from the cover of FIFA 19 at least partly in response to Mayorga’s allegation. “We are closely monitoring the situation, as we expect cover athletes and ambassadors to conduct themselves in a manner that is consistent with EA’s values,” the company said in a statement.
Ronaldo losing a sexual assault civil trial—particularly amid the heightened awareness/sensitivity generated by the MeToo movement —would elevate his risk of losing endorsements. Companies enjoy substantial discretion under “morals clauses,” which are common in endorsement deals and authorize the endorsed company to void or suspend payments when the athlete is implicated in wrongdoing.
In light of Judge Dorsey’s ruling, attorneys for Ronaldo could seek to negotiate a new out-of-court settlement with Mayorga. A settlement would lead to the dismissal of her lawsuit and avert further court hearings.