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Oliver Luck’s $23 million lawsuit against Vince McMahon’s XFL is set for trial next year

A dispute over the firing of former West Virginia University Athletic Director Oliver Luck from his job as commissioner of the upstart XFL professional football league is heading toward a possible trial next year.

Oliver Luck

Luck, 61, is suing professional wrestling executive Vince McMahon and Alpha Entertainment over his firing in April, 2020. Luck aims to recover $23.8 million in salary and bonuses.

U.S. District Judge Victor Bolden of Connecticut ruled this month on a range of issues regarding what may be admitted into evidence, including issues surrounding whether Luck improperly deleted information from his Alpha-issued iPhone after his termination.

Among a whole host of rulings on pending motions, Bolden dismissed Luck’s claim that McMahon had breached an implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing, saying McMahon was not a signatory to the employment contract. But the judge denied a motion to dismiss the same claim against Alpha.

Separately, the judge set deadlines, including a Feb. 4, 2022, joint trial memorandum, leading up to guidance to have the case ready for trial by March 7.

Luck was a three-year starter at quarterback on the West Virginia University football team between 1978 and 1981, earning Academic All-American honors. In 2010, he was hired as the athletic director at the university. He left in late-2014 to take a newly-created position as executive vice president for regulatory affairs for the NCAA.

Vince McMahon

In June, 2018, Luck was named the commissioner and chief executive officer of the XFL. The league was established by 76-year-old sports entertainment executive McMahon and owned by McMahon’s Alpha Entertainment.

Luck’s contract extended from July 1, 2018, to June 30, 2023. He entered into the contract on May 30, 2018.

He received a base salary of $5 million per contract year, and a guaranteed annual bonus of $2 million on the last day of each contract year, subject to his continued employment on the scheduled payment date.

The contract stated that Alpha could terminate Luck “at any time, with or without cause,” and set forth six grounds for termination for cause, including “Mr. Luck’s willful and intentional material misconduct in performance of his duties or gross negligence of his duties . . . , including an intentional failure to follow any applicable XFL policies or directives,” and “Mr. Luck’s willful disregard of the lawful instructions of Mr. McMahon concerning Mr. Luck’s material duties hereunder.”

As the effects of the covid-19 pandemic took hold in early 2020, the XFL’s operations came to a halt five games into its inaugural season. The league filed for bankruptcy that April 13.

Days before the bankruptcy filing, on April 9, 2020, Alpha terminated Luck’s employment, citing causes that included alleged gross negligence and willful disregard of McMahon’s lawful instructions about Luck’s material duties.

One of the alleged violations crossed the policy of “not signing players with problematical backgrounds and history” when Luck entered into a contract with Antonio Callaway and offered him “a very substantial signing bonus of $125,000.”

The league also alleged Luck failed to carry out in a timely fashion a directive by McMahon to terminate Callaway’s services, leading to the XFL’s liability for Callaway’s injury at practice

And the league cited Luck’s  alleged failure to devote substantially all business time to XFL duties after March 13, 2020, when Luck left its Connecticut headquarters for Indiana following the XFL’s cancellation of the rest of its season because of the covid-19 pandemic. The league contended Luck also failed to exhibit “any of the vigor and work ethic required of a CEO of a start-up enterprise in these trying times.”

On April 16, 2020, Luck responded to the termination letter, denying Alpha’s grounds for termination as “meritless.” Luck countered that he had “performed all of his actions or omissions in good faith and with [his] reasonable belief that such actions or omissions were in the best interests of the XFL.”

For example, Luck stated that at the time Antonio Callaway entered into a contract with the XFL, the league did not have a policy in place that would have disqualified him from playing in the league.

Much of the back-and-forth between Luck and the defendants has focused on what should be admissible as evidence, including Luck’s actions with his league-issued cell phone.

The defendants argue that the Luck’s use of the Alpha-issued iPhone is relevant to the parties’ claims and defenses and, so, should be part of the evidence discovery process.

Luck has pushed for only material from the phone that relates to his job to be part of the court record.

“Specifically, [Mr. Luck] requests that Defendants, their counsel and experts be prohibited from disclosing personal information gleaned from the contents of the iPhone utilized by Mr. Luck during his tenure as XFL Commissioner and CEO,” the judge wrote.

The judge is weighing whether the information from the phone is relevant to the defense and “proportional to the needs of the case.”

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