COMPLAINT AND DEMAND FOR JURY TRIAL
Plaintiff Rena Mero ("Plaintiff" or "Mrs. Mero"), as and for her complaint against Defendant Titan Sports, Inc., a/k/a World Wrestling Federation ("WWF"), alleges as follows:
NATURE OF THE ACTION
1. This action arises out of the world of professional wrestling (a world that has in the recent past become increasingly obscene, titillating, vulgar and unsafe), The WWF controls its performers through a Carefully designed program of intimidation and humiliation, including scripted sexual provocation (in and out of the ring), and staged stunts that are inherently dangerous under contracts that absolve the WWF of all responsibility. Mrs. Mero, the Plaintiff, has been variously induced, cajoled and threatened to appear and perform under increasingly obscene and compromising conditions that have crossed the line of acceptable conduct, After repeatedly refusing to have her gown torn off on national television, and after refusing to expose her breasts on national television (by a "scripted mistake"), she was advised by Defendant that her championship belt was to be lost in her next match. She was, according to Defendant's chief executive, Vince McMahon, being a "prima donna" and the WWF would move on to its next queen.
2. Plaintiff suggested that the belt loss occur not on television (as had been done vith others) so she would not be exposed to further degradation. Vince McMahon advised Mrs. Mero that the absence of her appearance, as scheduled, would disappoint her fans and violate her contract. Plaintiff still refused unless a special contract was entered, scripting a safe manner in which the loss was to take place and specifically forbidding any disparaging WWF conduct. That night, notwithstanding the contract, tile degradation of Mrs. Mero continued, with ring announcers working for the WWF belittling her before a nationally televised audience. Subsequently, she found her appearances canceled and her merchandise pulled from store shelves. Soon thereafter, Mrs. Mero found her personal effects in her dressing room smeared with feces. This suit followed.
3. As a result of the foregoing conduct as specifically set forth below, Mrs. Mero is entitled to declaratory relief terminating and/or rescinding her contract with the defendant, and declaring that all rights, including merchandising rights, with respect to and associated with her name and face revert to her. In addition, based on defendant's egregious conduct, Mrs, Mero is entitled to substantial compensatory damages, and to a finding that the WWF's behavior violates the Connecticut Unfair Trade Practices Act ("CUTPA"). Finally. to set an example and send a resounding message to this increasingly vulgar and intimidating industry, the WWF should be assessed punitive damages in the amount of One Hundred Million Dollars - a small fraction of its approximately $750 Million in assets.
4. Mrs, Mero is a performer who appears, among other things, as a professional wrestler under the stage name of "Sable', and resides at __________. Plaintiff is a wife and mother who, until becoming involved in wrestling had worked part-time as a model.
5. Upon information and belief, Defendant is a Delaware corporation doing business as World Wrestling Federation (" WWF"), a wrestling promotion organization with its principal place of business at 1241 East Main Street, Stamford Connecticut 06902. WWF events are broadcast on USA Network, and the WWF's franchise has been extended into syndication and pay-per-view, as well as merchandising, home video, magazine publishing, the Internet and live events.
6. The WWF is the dominant force in the wrestling market which is comprised of two principal players: The WWF and the WCW. Since its wrestlers are bound to the WWF by unconscionable contracts of adhesion, and are precluded from wrestling for any competing organization, the WWF has and will continue to abuse its wrestlers (including holding down their income below competitive market rates), and the wrestlers are forced to perform under dangerous and vulgar conditions controlled by the WWF
7. This Court has jurisdiction over the action pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 133 1(a)(1) since the action is between citizens of different States, and the matter in controversy exceeds the sum or $75,000, exclusive of interest and costs.
8. Venue in this Court is proper pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1391(a)(1) since the Defendant's principal place of business is in Connecticut.
FACTS AND CIRCUMSTANCES GIVING RISE TO THE CAUSES OF ACTION ALLEGED
9. In or around March 1996. while accompanying her husband (Marc Mero a well known professional wrestler) to his contract signing, WWF's Chief Executive, Vince McMahon, ("McMahon") told Mrs. Mero that he was struck by her beauty and proposed that she appear as a "valet". Mrs. Mero signed her first contract with Defendant in or about April 1996 and began appearing at Defendant's wrestling events under the name "Sable." A true and correct copy of Plaintiff's 's original contract with Defendant is annexed hereto as Exh. A.
10. Twelve months later, McMahon proposed Mrs. Mero's appearance as a wrestler. At that time, McMahon represented and explained to Mrs. Mero that female wrestling, like the male matches staged by Defendant, would not be competitive sporting events, but rather would be staged entertainment in which all activity in the wrestling ring - the moves of each wrestler the holds, the falls, and the winner and loser - are scripted and predetermined prior to each match by agents of the WWF who attend each event. McMahon further represented and assured Mrs. Mero that the "wrestling" in which she would engage would be safe.
11. Mrs. Mero raised with McMahon her concerns regarding the safety of appearing in Defendant's wrestling events. In this regard, she told McMahon that she had no training as a wrestler and had undergone breast implant surgery which could pose a serious health risk if she were to experience a frontal fall. McMahon again represented to and assured Plaintiff that wrestling events staged by the WWF were safe and that she need riot be concerned about safety or health risks.
12. Plaintiff also expressed to McMahon her concern about the entertainment wrestling Industry as a whole, inasmuch as she was familiar with the industry's reputation for steroid use and drug abuse, Once again, McMahon sought to ease Mrs. Mero's concerns by representing and assuring her that he was "cleaning up" the WWF and had established routine drug testing of his wrestlers by a well known organization..
The "Renewal Contract"
13. Over the course of the next two years, Plaintiff fulfilled the terms of her original 1996 contract and appeared at Defendant's wrestling events, becoming not only one of the most popular personalities in the WWF and, indeed, in the entire industry, but one of the most popular personalities of either gender.
14. Notwithstanding her success, however, Mrs. Mero had severe reservations about the WWF, her role as "Sable," and the direction in which McMahon appeared to be driving the WWF. She discussed with McMahon what she perceived to be illegal drug use, including the use of steroids, and the increasing violence and emphasis on vulgarity. She also wanted to pursue her acting career, and discussed with McMahon the idea of limiting her wrestling appearances accordingly.
15. In response to Mrs. Mero's concerns McMahon assured her that he would enforce the WWF's drug policy. He also promised her that WWF would limit her wrestling appearances so that she would have the opportunity to pursue her acting career, He also agreed to modify and increase the payments that she would receive from the WWF.
16. Approximately eight months before the expiration of the WWF contract, in or about June of 1998, Vince McMahon presented Mrs, Mero with another contract (the "Renewal Contract"). Upon presenting the Renewal Contract to Mrs. Mero, McMahon represented to her that it was the same as the prior contract, except that the term had been extended and payment and appearance terms had been modified in accordance with their discussions, Plaintiff took the Renewal Contract home but saw no reason to execute it.
17. In or about August 1998, Plaintiff was scheduled to appear at a wrestling match in Long Island, New York. Immediately prior to the match, Plaintiff was approached by Jim Ross, Senior Vice President of WWF who told Mrs. Mero she had had enough time to review the contract and demanded that she sign the Renewal Contract. Indeed, Mr. Ross advised Mrs. Mero he had brought with him a notary from Connecticut for the express purpose of notarizing Mrs. Mero's signature. Although Mrs. Mero told film that she wanted her lawyer's advice regarding the contract, Mr. Ross demanded that she sign it immediately, re-emphasizing that other than as previously stated, the Renewal Contract was the same. He inferred that her job was at stake if she refused. Intimidated and distracted by preparing for her performance only minutes away, Plaintiff signed the Renewal Contract. A true and correct copy of the Renewal Contract 'Is annexed hereto as Exh. B
18. What Vince McMahon failed to advise Mrs, Mero was that the Renewal Contract unlike the original contract - now contained an arbitration clause. When Mrs, Mero signed the Renewal Contract, in reliance on McMahon's representations, she was unaware that it now contained an arbitration provision, or of its ramifications, and, accordingly, she had been effectively prevented from obtaining her own legal advice.
19. Except for the aforesaid critical change, the Renewal Contract was indeed substantially the same, The Renewal Contract contained the same unworkable and one-sided terms. By way of representative example, provisions existed whereby:
(a) Plaintiff relinquishes all rights to her own name and likeness.
(b) Any injury to Plaintiff in the ring that results in her inability to perform for more than six consecutive weeks results in a reduction of Plaintiff's minimum compensation, absolves Defendant of any obligation to pay Plaintiff royalties during such period, and automatically extends the contract term for a like period of time.
(c) Plaintiff is obligated to perform any and all scripts devised by Defendant, in Defendant's sole discretion, and in the event of a resulting injury to Plaintiff in the ring, Plaintiff absolves Defendant of any negligence claim.
(d) In the event of Plaintiffs death in the ring, Defendant retains a right to any and all sums due and owing to Plaintiff.
(e) Plaintiff is obliged to comport with Defendant's drug policy (defendant had no obligation even to establish a policy).
20. In addition to wrongfully -inducing Mrs. Mero to re-execute an unconscionably one-sided contract, the WWF has repeatedly interfered with Plaintiff's ability to perform the contractual obligations contained therein, and repeatedly placed her in physically dangerous and morally compromising situations. For example, Defendant's representatives routinely failed to appear at events to script the matches, merely informing the participants who should be the winner and loser. The wrestlers were pressured by Defendant to engage in ever more outrageous, dare-devil stunts, Thus pressured, the wrestlers were left to their own devices to choreograph increasingly dangerous wrestling moves. Defendant failed to continue drug testing of wrestlers, explaining It was "too expensive".
21. During the months that followed, Mrs, Mero bitterly complained about her concerns and the humiliation that she was constantly facing, which was not only interfering with her well-being, but with her safety and state of mind. For example, men would routinely walk into the women's dressing room as if by accident; men would cut holes in the walls to watch the women dressing; extras were hired as WWF regulars to expose their breasts; big nipple contests were engaged in; men regularly bragged about their sexual encounters without regard to the women present; WWF produced catalogues and tee-shirts depicting Mrs. Mero In a degrading fashion offering sexual favors; Mrs. Mero was requested to display affection to women to promote a "lesbian angle"; Mrs. Mero was asked to have her gown ripped off repeatedly (notwithstanding promises to the contrary), and Plaintiff was asked to expose her breasts by "mistake" on national television during a wrestling contest. In short, the amount of vulgarity and obscenity steadily increased - and notwithstanding, the WWF's repeated assurances to Mrs Mero and the press that they would stop this behavior, the vulgarity and obscenity scripted by the WWF purposely accelerated.
22. Safety became a prime concern to Plaintiff, in part because of the WWF's attempts to script ever-increasing violence, and in part due to what Plaintiff perceived as steroid use by her fellow- wrestlers, - steroid use to which the WWF deliberately turned a blind eye when 'it stopped testing its wrestlers. Such steroid abuse frequently results in outrageous behavior ("Roidrage"), which in the WWF ring is impossible to differentiate from scripted behavior. As a consequence, Mrs. Mero felt her well being constantly threatened. For example, wrestlers regularly threatened to beat her up outside the ring; she was also threatened with having her face bitten to disfigure her and ruin her career. WWF did little, if anything, to alleviate the foregoing abuses, and, indeed, its own officers regularly participated in the vulgarity.
23. Upon information and belief, Defendant directed that Mrs. Mero and the other wrestlers engage in such sexually provocative and outrageous conduct as a marketing ploy to raise the public profile of Defendant's events, despite the fact that Mrs. Mero had complained to Defendant on numerous occasions that she found the increasingly sexual tenor of the wrestling events to be personally offensive and morally objectionable.
24. Upon information and belief, Defendant also instructed the wrestlers with whom Mrs. Mero was matched to engage in outrageous and dangerously aggressive conduct toward her, despite her repeated complaints and reminders that such activity posed a risk of serious injury. Mrs. Mero was also the subject of numerous off-stage threats from other female wrestlers, including the aforesaid threats of assault and disfigurement. On one occasion, her travel bag was smeared with feces to underscore the threats.
25. Defendant directed Mrs. Mero and the other WWF wrestlers to engage I in such conduct as lucrative "hype", which increases the profile - and therefore the revenues - of the WWF.
26. Simultaneously, the WWF encumbers athletes with unconscionable one-sided contracts which controls their star status by the threat of raising and lowering their profile at will, underpaying gifted athletes far below their worth for a sport that has become increasingly dangerous without controls. By this combination of (i) obscenity and vulgarity to the public, and (ii) pay deprivation to the athletes, the WWF in a short period of time has become more valuable than most individual United States football, baseball, hockey and basketball franchises.
27. Rebellion against or criticism of the coercive dictates of the WWF and Vincent McMahon is not tolerated - in fact, it results in McMahon and the WWF merely increasing their efforts in the campaign of harassment.
THE MAY 10th AGREEMENT
28. Because of the escalation of danger and humiliation in the circumstances under which Mrs. Mero was forced to work, she increasingly refused to participate. Eventually, she refused to have her gown torn off on national television and refused to expose her breasts by scripted "mistake". The WWF response was to strip her title "WWF Champion." Amenable to the suggestion, but afraid of how the title was to be taken, Mrs. Mero asked it be accomplished off camera, When Vince McMahon told her that she had an "appearance obligation," and that any failure to appear would be a breach of contract. She nevertheless insisted on a specifically scripted loss of her title - one that would be neither dangerous nor humiliating to her. To this end, Mrs. Mero and Defendant negotiated a hand-written, mutually-executed agreement by which Mrs. Mero would relinquish her wrestling title:
Notwithstanding any agreement between us and because we disagree about the fashion I would lose my belt, and because of my concerns of humiliation and safety, It is agreed that I appear tonight solely upon your contractual assurances that I will not lose my gown nor wrestle, and that the girt with whom I am Interfacing agrees with her role.
My appearance in Manchester shall be no more than parading in the ring and shall not include wrestling.
I agree to make a scheduled personal appearance outside the ring, otherwise I will have complete hiatus from the WWF until May 23rd, at which time we hope to have our contractual concerns resolved, Until such time, neither I nor the WWF, its employees or subcontractors shall speak disparagingly about the other scripted or unscripted.
29. Despite this agreement and in direct disregard of its terms, that very evening the WWF, through Its employees, deliberately disparaged Mrs. Mero in connection with the very event at which she gave up her belt. The following remarks were made before a televised audience by WWF's paid employees:
"Do you think she is horizontally accessible,"
"She is accessible every which way from what I hear."
Immediately thereafter, when the camera focused on Mrs. Mero holding microphone, the WWF commentator said to the audience of millions:
"She certainly seems comfortable with that microphone up at her mouth like that."
Because of the crowd noise. these obscene and disparaging remarks were not heard by Mrs. Mero at the time.
FIRST CLAIM FOR RELIEF -- DECLARATORY JUDGMENT
30. Plaintiff repeats and realleges the allegations set forth in paragraphs I through 29 of the Complaint as if fully set forth herein.
31. Defendant made the representations and assurances set Plaintiff to enter forth above to induce into a contract and the Renewal Contract and to continue to perform as a wrestler for the WWF. The representations and assurances made by defendant were false and/or made with reckless disregard for the truth, because (a) McMahon and the WWF had no intention of enforcing Defendant's drug policy; (b) McMahon and the WWF would not limit Mrs, Mero's wrestling appearances and had no intention of allowing her to develop an acting career, and (c) except as previously stated, the Renewal Contract was the same as the previous contract except for one critical area: an undisclosed arbitration provision.
32. Plaintiff relied on defendant's representations and assurances in entering into the contract and the Renewal Contract.
33. As a result of the foregoing, Plaintiff is entitled to a declaration rescinding and/or terminating her obligations under the Renewal Contract and declaring that Defendant has no rights whatsoever, including merchandising rights, under the Renewal Contract to Plaintiff's name or likeness and that Plairitiff owns all right, title and intent with the name "Sable".
SECOND CLAIM FOR RELIEF - - NEGLIGENT GENT MISREPRESENTATION
34. Plaintiff repeats and realleges the allegations set forth in paragraphs I through 34 of the Complaint,
35. In connection with the business transaction between WWF and Plaintiff, WWF supplied false information to Plaintiff concerning WWF's intentions to (a) enforce its drug policy, (b) to limit Plaintiff's wrestling appearances, and (c) allow Plaintiff to pursue an acting career.
36. WWF failed to exercise reasonable care in representing its false intentions to Plaintiff, and Plaintiff justifiably relied upon WWF's representations.
37. As a result of WWF's negligent misrepresentations, Plaintiff has suffered pecuniary loss in an amount exceeding $10 million.
THIRD CLAIM FOR RELIEF - - BREACH OF CONTRACT
38. Plaintiff repeats and realleges the allegations set forth in paragraphs I through 37 of the Complaint.
39. By reason of the foregoing, defendant has materially breached the Renewal Contract and Plaintiff is entitled to a declaration rescinding and/or terminating her obligations under the Renewal Contract; and declaring that Defendant has no merchandising rights under Mrs. Mero's own name or likeness, or that of the character "Sable".
40. Upon information and belief, Defendant has failed to make the payments required under Article 7 of the Renewal Contract by, inter alia failing to fully report and pay the appropriate percentage for all categories of merchandise carrying her likeness and failing to accurately and fully report and pay for sold merchandise.
41. By reason of the foregoing, Plaintiff is entitled to an accounting and an award of damages in an amount to be determined at trial.
FOURTH CLAIM FOR RELIEF BREACH OF THE CONTRACT OF MAY 10, 1999
42. Plaintiff repeats and realleges the allegations set forth in paragraphs I through 41 of the Complaint as if fully set forth herein.
43. On the same evening that the May 10th Agreement was executed, and despite its express terms, the WWF, through its agents and/or employees and/or representatives, disparaged Plaintiff in connection with the event at which she gave up her belt.
44. Defendant's obscene and humiliating disparagement of Plaintiff before an audience of millions of viewers, in flagrant disregard of the parties' agreement, constitutes breach of the May 10th Agreement.
45. As a result of Defendant's breach of the May 10th Agreement, Plaintiff has been damaged in an amount exceeding $10 million.
FIFTH CAUSE OF ACTION: NEGLIGENT INFLICTION OF EMOTIONAL DISTRESS
46. Plaintiff repeats and realleges the allegations set forth in paragraphs I through 45 of the Complaint.
47. Defendant knew that Plaintiff was terrified of being humiliated with respect to the circumstances under which she would relinquish her title. Notwithstanding Defendants knowledge - and Defendant's express agreement not to stage such an event in a disparaging way -- Defendant authorized and/or permitted broadcasters under its control to make cruel and sexually humiliating statements to a nationally television audience at the wrestling event in which she was forced to give up her title.
48. Defendant should have known that its conduct involved a reasonable risk of causing Plaintiff emotional distress.
49. In addition, Plaintiff was forced to perform in an atmosphere which created under continuous and personal threats for her safety
50. Plaintiff was subjected to callous and indifferent sexual abuse and behavior.
51. As a result of Defendant's negligent and or intentional infliction of emotional distress, Plaintiff has been damaged in an amount exceeding $10 million
SIXTH CLAIMS FOR RELIEF - - UNLAWFUL DISCHARGE
52. Plaintiff repeats and realleges the allegations set forth in paragraphs I through 5 1 of the Complaint.
53. The aforementioned acts and actions of the WWF represent material breaches and anticipatory breaches of the contract and renewal contract, and further, have made conditions so intolerable for Plaintiff as to constitute an effective and unlawful discharge, as a result of which plaintiff has suffered damages in an amount exceeding $10 million dollars.
SEVENTH CLAIM FOR RELIEF -- VIOLATION OF THE CONNECTICUT UNFAIR TRADE PRACTICES ACT (C.G.S. § 42-110B, ET SEQ).
54. Plaintiff repeats and realleges the allegations set forth in paragraphs I through 53 of the Complaint.
55. The sport of wrestling constitutes trade or commerce under Connecticut's Unfair Trade Practices Act C.G.S. § 42 - 110(b) et. seq.
56. The foregoing acts of Defendants were unfair and deceptive in that Defendant through its authorized employees and agents, repeatedly tied to Plaintiff in connection with (a) Plaintiff's conditions of employment; (b) the meaning and intent of the contract; (c) WWF drug use and its drug "policy"; (d) failure to property script events; (e) the safety of events; and (f) Plaintiff's obligations under the contract. Further, upon information and belief, defendant has (g) violated statutes and regulations regarding wrestling events, as applied to the Plaintiff, in those jurisdictions where such events are regulated.
57. Plaintiff, as a result of the aforesaid unfair acts and practices has suffered ascertainable losses in an amount not less than $10 million dollars.
WHEREFORE Plaintiffs respectfully prays for judgment as follows:
(a) as to the First and Second Claims For Relief, a declaration that: (i) the Renewed Contract is deemed to be rescinded, terminated and of no force and effect with respect to Plaintiff and (ii) Defendant has no continuing merchandising rights under the Renewal Contract;
(b) as to the Third Claim for Relief, an accounting and an award of damages in an amount to be determined at trial;
(c) as to the Fourth, Fifth and Sixth Claims for Relief (i) an award to Plaintiff of such damages as she shall prove at trial, in excess of $10 million, together with interest thereon; (ii) punitive damages in the amount of $100 million; (iii) an award to Plaintiff of the costs of this action, together with reasonable attorneys' fees; and (iv) an award to Plaintiff of any such. further relief as this Court may deem just and proper.
(d) as to the Seventh Claim for Relief, (i) compensatory damages, (it) punitive damages, (iii) costs and reasonable attorneys fees, and (iv) such equitable relief, including injunction(s) as the Court may deem necessary or proper, pursuant to C.G.S. § 42 - 110g(a) and (d).