Deshaun Watson Settled 20 Sexual Harassment Lawsuits

Deshawn Watson, defenseman for the Cleveland Browns, reached a settlement with 20 of the 24 women who applied. sexual harassment lawsuits against him, attorney Tony Bazby said Tuesday morning. Buzby, who represents Watson’s accusers, said in a statement that the terms and amounts of the settlement are confidential and that the cases will be closed upon completion.

By phone, Watson’s lawyer Rusty Hardin said he had no comment but did not deny that a settlement had been reached.

Watson’s first public allegation of sexual harassment during a massage session was made in March 2021, leading to an avalanche of lawsuits filed by additional women. Buzby said Ashley Solis, who filed the original lawsuit, was one of four women who didn’t get settled.

Watson’s claims were for massage sessions he had in 2020 and early 2021 while playing for the Houston Texans. In March, he was traded to Cleveland after a grand jury in Harris County, Texas, refused to indict him on felony charges. The Browns gave Watson an unprecedented, fully guaranteed, five-year, $230 million contract.

But Watson has faced additional pressure in recent weeks when two new women file lawsuits against him. Buzby also said he plans to add Texans as defendants after the New York Times the study testified that the team provided the location that Watson used for some of the massages and provided him with a non-disclosure agreement. On Tuesday, Buzby said the Texans were not involved in the settlements.

Watson and his accusers had previously entered into settlement talks before the NFL trade deadline last November. One interested team, the Miami Dolphins, will not move forward with a potential deal until all civil suits against Watson are resolved, Hardin said. In a recent court filing, Bazby said that Watson’s representatives offered each woman $100,000 to settle, but not all of the women agreed due to what he described as an “aggressive non-disclosure agreement.”

Asked at a press conference during Brown’s mini-camp last week if he was ready to settle civil cases, Watson said he wanted to “clear his name and be able to let the facts and the legal process go on.” He also said again that he “never forced anyone” to engage in sexual activity. Through his lawyers, Watson admitted to having had sexual contact with the three women who sued him, but claimed it was consensual and initiated by the women after the massage ended.

The settlement comes as the NFL considers punishing Watson in accordance with its personal conduct policy. League investigators have spent four days questioning Watson over the past five weeks, Hardin said, usually one of the last steps in the process. NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said the settlements “had no effect on the collectively negotiated disciplinary process.”

Busby called Solis “one of the heroes of the story”. In her lawsuit, Solis alleged that Watson intentionally touched her hand with his naked and erect penis during a massage session in March 2020. Watson admitted in a deposition that Solis was “with tears in her eyes” and after he left, he apologized via text message for making her feel “uncomfortable”. Solis reached out to colleagues in the industry, as well as lawyers, for advice on how to respond to what happened, and in December 2020 she was put in touch with the law firm of Buzby.

“Without Ashley Solis, the behavior of these women would probably have continued unhindered,” Buzby said in a statement. He added that he was looking forward to hearing the cases of Solis and three other women who did not resolve the issue “in due course.”

The Times investigation found that Watson’s behavior was more questionable than previously known, in addition to claims by the 24 women who filed the lawsuits: he made appointments with at least 66 different women in 17 months from autumn 2019 to spring 2021. Some of these additional women, speaking publicly for the first time, described experiences that undermined Watson’s insistence that he only seek professional massage therapy.

The Times report also says that two months before the Harris County grand jury hearing against Watson, Hardin began a regular dialogue with Jonah Stallings, the sex crimes prosecutor leading the investigation. In January, Stallings came to Hardin’s office for a meeting where Hardin said that he and his team “made a presentation reflecting the testimony and evidence relating to each of the criminal complainants.”