The $23.8 million legal fight between former XFL commissioner Oliver Luck and his onetime boss, WWE founder and Alpha Entertainment chairman Vince McMahon, expanded last Friday when Alpha’s attorneys filed amended counterclaims in Connecticut federal district court.
Among new allegations brought against Luck, Alpha insists that Luck “repeatedly” engaged in the unauthorized disclosure of confidential XFL information to his brother-in-law, William Wilson. Wilson was a prominent NFL agent at Wasserman Media Group, where he served as executive vice president and co-head of the football division (he has since become CEO and Secretary General of U.S. Soccer). Luck is accused of sharing “XFL requests for proposals, meeting notes, presentations, draft contracts, and analysis of players” as well as “attorney-client privileged information . . . including draft contracts and analysis of contracts.” He allegedly disclosed these purported trade secrets and sensitive materials without McMahon’s consent.
While Luck is portrayed as reckless in the latest filing, he scored a significant pretrial discovery victory earlier in the month. Judge Victor Bolden accepted Luck’s request for all documents and communications (including emails) held by Alpha about Luck and his job performance. Alpha was also ordered to share written and electronic evidence regarding several topics: whether McMahon—who claims Luck went incommunicado as the coronavirus pandemic began—was himself available for communication; whether McMahon or other Alpha executives issued any warnings or notice to Luck concerning his job performance and use of a company iPhone; and the extent to which the pandemic harmed XFL finances and how that may have impacted the decision to fire Luck. Luck wants to portray Alpha as essentially cooking up fake reasons to avoid paying him; if McMahon and Alpha hadn’t disciplined, warned or placed Luck on notice about his supposed malfeasance, Luck could more persuasively contend that his alleged malfeasance either didn’t happen or wasn’t meaningful to Alpha.
Neither Luck nor McMahon remains tied to the XFL, which was purchased out of bankruptcy last year by RedBird Capital CEO Gerry Cardinale, WWE star Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and businessperson Dany Garcia. However, the XFL experiences of both men are central to their ongoing legal fight.
Last year, Luck sued McMahon and Alpha for breach of contract, arguing that he was wrongfully fired for cause—a designation that relieved Alpha of the obligation to pay the $23.8 million left on Luck’s contract. Luck, 60, insists that his termination was pretextual. As he sees it, Alpha was on the brink of a pandemic-induced bankruptcy when it saw an opportunity to concoct trumped-up charges as a means of escaping a sizable financial expense—Luck’s hefty contract. Luck also charges that McMahon illegally reneged on an “irrevocable” and “unconditional” guarantee that Alpha would pay.
Six weeks ago, Alpha countersued Luck for breach of contract and fiduciary duties. Among other grievances, Alpha maintains that the former NCAA executive vice president defied his obligation to only employ players who possess “good character.” Luck is also accused of misusing his XFL-issued iPhone for personal matters.
The litigation has involved jostling over types of evidence each side must share. Earlier this month, Judge Bolden sided with Alpha on its insistence that Luck reveal the passcode for his Alpha-issued iPhone. Bolden held that Alpha could use the passcode “to access the contents” of the iPhone so long as Alpha develops and implements “a system to segregate and remove privileged content with Mr. Luck.”
Luck, who acknowledges that he used the iPhone for both work and non-work purposes, had argued the passcode request was a red herring and “no more than a fishing expedition.” He also objected on grounds that it could supply Alpha with access to communications protected by attorney-client privilege. Alpha disagreed, arguing that whether it lawfully fired Luck hinges in part on whether, and to what degree, he violated the XFL technology policy. The contents of his phone, Alpha maintained, were therefore relevant. Judge Bolden agreed.
The amended counterclaims supply additional details regarding Luck’s hiring and not immediately cutting Tampa Bay Vipers wide receiver Antonio Callaway. Alpha insists that Callaway had failed to satisfy McMahon’s directive that the XFL not employ players with “bad reputations due to questionable or problematic backgrounds in public statements.” Callaway injured his knee during a practice on Jan. 29, 2020. Alpha asserts that “despite knowing that Antonio Callaway had been injured during practice at approximately 12:30 p.m., Luck did not inform McMahon of the injury when he texted McMahon that evening at approximately 6:37 p.m. Instead, Luck falsely told McMahon that he was ‘in the process of removing Callaway from TB,’ which Luck knew was not true in light of Callaway’s injury earlier in the day.”
The amended language also asserts that Luck not only “did not inform McMahon that he regularly and routinely used the iPhone issued to him by Alpha” for non-XFL matters but that Luck also went so far as to “conceal” his iPhone habits from McMahon. He is further accused of forwarding XFL information to his and his wife’s personal email accounts. These added descriptions paint a more damning portrayal of Luck.
Whether this new portrayal is supported by facts and whether it proves contextually truthful remains to be seen. Even if Luck shared insights with his brother-in-law and forwarded emails, those actions might not prove sufficiently damaging to the XFL’s brand to justify a for cause firing. Such a designation often requires a showing of unlawful or highly unethical conduct.