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 follow through on his vow to sue the Texans for their alleged role in Watson’s alleged misconduct. A response came, in the form of the first lawsuit against the Texans stemming from the Watson situation.
“Today we filed the first of what will likely be many cases against the Houston Texans regarding the behavior of Deshaun Watson,” Buzbee said in a news release. Suffice it to say, the overwhelming evidence gathered that the Houston Texans enabled Watson’s behavior is incredibly overwhelming. We believe the Texans knew, or most certainly should have known, of Watson’s conduct. Beyond that, we think the record speaks for itself.
The lawsuit, filed by Toi Garner against Houston NFL Holdings, LP, alleges Watson asked him for a massage in November 2020 via social media, and that he brought with him a nondisclosure agreement provided by the Texans.
“During the massage session, Watson assaulted and harassed the plaintiff by aggressively exposing her naked body to her, deliberately touching her with his penis and ultimately ejaculating on her,” the petition alleges.
The petition alleges that Watson has consistently refused to receive massages on team premises and that he has refused to use the services of the team’s selected massage therapy provider, Genuine Touch. On page 2, the petition alleges that in June 2020, the owner of Genuine Touch “complained to Texans that Watson was looking for unqualified strangers for massages via Instagram” and that “Watson was putting himself at risk of contracting Covid , or get sued.”
The petition on page three accuses the Texans of turning a blind eye to Watson’s behavior, and that the team actually allowed it by providing the NDA, providing the Houstonian with a room in which Watson was massaged, and giving her a massage table to use 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 alleges. Surprisingly, the petition claims on page four that several Genuine Touch employees knew that several Genuine Touch therapists had sex with Watson during massage sessions.
The Texans never investigated Watson, according to the petition. Instead, the Texans gave him a nondisclosure agreement that would protect him from random massage therapists he hired through social media.
The lawsuit seeks to impose liability on Texans in a variety of ways. He argues that Watson was acting within the scope of his employment when he requested these massages, making the team directly responsible for his behavior. (That’s a very aggressive stance, because it’s hard to imagine how or why Watson was doing anything other than acting in his own capacity in seeking out these massages.) He also argues that the Texans failed to prevent continued misconduct by Watson, once the team knew or should have known that he was engaging in questionable behavior. Finally, he argues that the Texans and Watson engaged in a civil conspiracy that culminated in Watson’s alleged assaults.
The Texans released the following statement regarding today’s development: “We are aware of the lawsuit filed against us today. Since March 2021, we have fully supported and respected law enforcement and various investigations. We will continue to take the necessary steps to respond to the allegations against our organization. »
At the risk of reading too much into the statement, that’s a far cry from the NFL’s “baseless” knee-jerk response to all of the 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 more in legal arguments (for example, they had no legal duty to protect the people Watson allegedly abused) than in factual arguments.
However, the settlement of 20 cases, four of which are still pending, should not be taken as a sign that the court cases are over. For the Texans, they’re just getting started. And, for Watson, he may still find himself testifying at multiple trials for cases not filed against him but against his former team.