When news broke last week that Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson had reached settlements in 20 of the 24 civil cases pending against him, many wondered if attorney Tony Buzbee would go ahead with his vow to sue Texans for their alleged role in enabling Watsons to sue for alleged misconduct. A response has arrived, in the form of the first lawsuit against the Texans arising out of the Watson situation.
“Today we filed what is likely the first of many cases against the Houston Texans related to Deshaun Watson’s conduct,” Buzbee said in a press release. “Suffice it to say that the overwhelming evidence that has been gathered suggesting that Houston Texans enabled Watson’s conduct is incredibly damning. We believe the Texans knew, or certainly should have known, of Watson’s behavior. Furthermore, we believe the submission speaks for itself.”
The lawsuit filed by Toi Garner against Houston NFL Holdings, LP alleges Watson requested a massage from her via social media in November 2020, bringing with him a non-disclosure agreement provided by the Texans.
“During the massage session, Watson assaulted and molested the plaintiff by aggressively exposing his naked body to her, intentionally touching her with his penis and eventually ejaculating on her,” the petition reads.
The petition alleges Watson has consistently refused to have massages performed at the team’s facility and has refused to use the services of the team’s chosen massage therapy provider, Genuine Touch. Page 2 of the petition alleges that in June 2020 the owner of Genuine Touch “complained to Texans that Watson was using Instagram to seek out unqualified strangers for massages” and that “Watson put himself at risk of contracting Covid, or sue.”
The petition on page three accuses the Texans of “turning a blind eye” to Watson’s behavior and that the team actually made it possible by providing the non-disclosure agreement by providing a room at The Houstonian, in where Watson received massages and by giving him a massage table that can be used for these sessions.
“Watson was an employee of the Houston Texans; Individuals within the Texas organization knew, or should have known, of Watson’s conduct,” the petition reads. Surprisingly, on page four, the petition alleges that several Genuine Touch employees were aware that several Genuine Touch therapists were having sexual relations with Watson during massage sessions.
According to the petition, the Texans never investigated Watson. Instead, the Texans gave him a non-disclosure agreement that would protect him from the random massage therapists he hired through social media.
The lawsuit seeks to hold the Texans liable in a number of ways. It is argued that Watson acted within the limits of his employment when he requested these massages and held the team directly responsible for his conduct. (That’s a very aggressive position, since it’s difficult to imagine how or why Watson did anything other than act in his own capacity to seek these massages.) It’s also argued that the Texans are neglecting it to prevent Watson’s continued misconduct after the team learned or should have known that he was involved in questionable conduct. Finally, it is alleged that the Texans and Watson were involved in a civil conspiracy that led to Watson’s alleged attacks.
Regarding today’s development, the Texans issued the following statement: “We are aware of the lawsuit filed against us today. Since March 2021, we have fully supported and complied with law enforcement and the various investigations. We will continue to take the necessary steps to address the allegations against our organization.”
At the risk of reading too much into the statement, it’s a far cry from the NFL’s knee-jerk “no merit” response to any allegations against it. Since Watson has already testified that the NDA came from the Texans, the team may realize they have a problem. The team’s ultimate defense may lie in legal arguments (e.g. it had no legal duty to protect the individuals Watson allegedly abused) rather than factual arguments.
Regardless, the settlement of 20 cases, of which four remain, should not be taken as a sign that legal proceedings are over. For Texans, they’re just getting started. And for Watson, he may still testify in several court cases in cases brought not against him but against his former team.