The contract dispute between former XFL commissioner Oliver Luck and league owner Vince McMahon spilled into the public eye Wednesday through a series of filings related to Luck's wrongful termination lawsuit.
In response to Luck's suit, filed April 21 in Connecticut federal court, McMahon's attorneys said he fired Luck "for cause" and cited three examples of failures to comply with "multiple" XFL policies and directives. Luck's attorneys followed by unsealing the termination letter and Luck's response to that letter, calling the firing "a weak and pretextual attempt to avoid the lawful contractual obligations." Luck also claimed that the XFL did not utilize a "30-day cure period" to address its claims before firing him, as provided for in his contract. He is seeking a $23.8 million judgment.
Those reasons, along with Luck's responses, are as follows:
"Gross neglect" of the job once the coronavirus pandemic began. According to McMahon, Luck "effectively abandoned his responsibilities" beginning March 13 by relocating from the XFL offices in Stamford, Connecticut, to his home in Indiana and failing to "devote substantially all of his business time to his XFL duties as required by the contract." In the response letter, Luck's attorneys said Luck was unable to return to the office because of Connecticut's March 20 stay-at-home order. Luck was in contact with McMahon via text message, and his attorneys' letter listed the projects he was working on, including 2021 budgets.
Signing wide receiver Antonio Callaway without McMahon's approval and then refusing to release him when McMahon ordered Luck to do so. McMahon had said publicly that he did not want to sign players with problematic backgrounds. Most recently, Callaway was suspended by the NFL for violating its substance abuse policy. He suffered an injury during the XFL's January training camp and was placed on injured reserve. Luck's response letter said that signing Callaway didn't violate XFL policy as written and that Luck was responding to McMahon's request to elevate wide receiver talent in the league.
Personal use of an XFL-issued iPhone, an allegation that was not mentioned in the original termination letter. The phone is being forensically examined to determine the extent of Luck's personal use, according to McMahon's filing.
The letter also claimed that Luck employed "gross negligence ... in obtaining venues for the XFL to locate teams and in connection with the negotiation of term sheets and venue agreements." In his response letter, Luck's attorneys wrote that no venues were acquired without prior authorization and approval by McMahon. McMahon's representatives dropped that issue in Wednesday's filing.
McMahon hired Luck in May 2018 to be the public face of his second attempt to establish a professional football league, securing one of the country's most respected sports administrators to provide instant credibility. Luck's five-year contract called for a $5 million annual salary and a $2 million bonus. McMahon personally guaranteed the contract but now claims that Luck's actions invalidated it.
Luck received his termination notice April 9, one day before the XFL suspended operations and three days before it declared bankruptcy. The league is now for sale, according to McMahon's attorneys.
"Oliver is thrilled that this can all be aired in the court of public opinion, because his position is that he was wrongfully terminated," said Paul Dobrowski, one of Luck's attorneys.