As the football-following world awaits new developments that may never come as to the 20-year-old allegations of improper conduct by then-19-year-old Peyton Manning, it makes sense to try to make sense of the information that has been hiding in plain sight for more than a decade.
PFT has obtained the “verified complaint” in the defamation lawsuit filed in Florida by Jamie Naughright against Peyton Manning, Archie Manning, ghost-writer John Warren Underwood, Peydirt, Inc., and HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. on May 29, 2002. What follows is an attempt to explain the first filing in the case, including an attempt to show why the much-debated training-room incident from 1996 was relevant to a claim that, on the surface, was separate and distinct.
In the verified complaint, Naughright made only one claim against the defendants: Defamation of character. To prove defamation, a plaintiff must prove that a false statement of fact was made, that the statement harmed the plaintiff’s reputation, and that the plaintiff suffered financial and/or emotional/mental harm as a result of the false statement.
The Naughright defamation case arises exclusively from comments made by Peyton Manning in the 2001 book he wrote with his father, Archie. Long characterized by the media as a lawsuit arising only from Peyton’s belief that Naughright had a “vulgar mouth,” the verified complaint points to several other allegedly untrue statements in the book.
Specifically, the verified complaint targets statement in the book regarding the “mooning” incident and Naughright’s “lawsuit” against the University of Tennessee alleging 35 separate incidents of sexual harassment. (She never actually filed a lawsuit against Tennessee, and the verified complaint repeatedly stresses that fact. Some would call this a distinction without a difference; still, she didn’t file an actual lawsuit against Tennessee.) The book allegedly downplays the “mooning” incident, saying it was “proved [to be] mostly exaggeration,” and the book contends that she was “suing the university over job grievances.”
Naughright’s lawyers allege the following at paragraph 19 of the verified complaint: “The remaining quotations pertaining to the ‘mooning’ incident and the alleged ‘law suit’ falsely portray Dr. Naughright as an overly sensitive, predatory woman looking for incidents to bolster a law suit against her employer. Such portrayal is extremely damaging to her career in sports medicine in that it conveys Dr. Naughright is unsuitable for employment in her chosen field. Any future employer who accepts the Defendants’ false portrayal of Dr. Naughright as one who would be offended by such a relatively harmless action, would not even consider interviewing her for a position or hiring her for fear of being sued by her at the slightest provocation. The Defendants’ false version portrays Dr. Naughright as being too sensitive to hold any sports medicine position wherein she is required to interact with athletes or teach others how to interact with athletes and as such, is actionable per se, in that Defendant’s false version tends to subject Dr. Naughright to distrust, contempt, disgrace, odium, and ridicule, and suggests that she is unsuitable for employment in her chosen field.
This means the case arose from more than Peyton Manning calling Naughright someone with a “vulgar mouth.” It also came from his characterization of: (1) Naughright overreacting to a largely innocuous mooning; and (2) Naughright as being unreasonably litigious. For many employers, that combination is far more toxic than the question of whether a prospective or current employee uses coarse or rude language.
While it’s entirely possible (as some have suggested) that Naughright pulled the 1996 “mooning” incident into the 2002 lawsuit to apply pressure to Peyton Manning, there’s potential merit to the argument that Manning (acting on a possible grudge he’d been holding since 1996) tried to make Naughright seem to be unreasonably sensitive in the workplace, and unreasonably willing to make claims arising from things that happen in a workplace.
As to the so-called “mooning” incident of 1996, the verified complaint alleges at paragraph 20 that it “was not merely ‘mooning’, but was of such an egregious nature as to be beyond the pale.” At paragraph 21, the verified complaint calls the incident “of such a gross, crude, and indecent nature that it would have offended even the most callous individual,” that it was “filthy in nature,” that it “would be offensive to any reasonable individual,” and that the actions “were of a nature so bizarre and gross as to cause any reasonable person severe mental and emotional harm.”
While the verified complaint at no point alleges that Peyton Manning’s genitalia and/or rectal area made contact with Naughright (she’d later make that specific claim in deposition testimony), the verified complaint is broad enough to encompass the allegation she eventually made. (Some would say that her version still conflicts with what she said about the incident in 1996, which definitely would have been an issue if the 2002 lawsuit had ever gone to trial.)
Keep in mind that all of the allegations in the verified complaint are just that: Allegations. Manning later would respond to the allegations, denying all allegations that go to the question of whether he uttered false and defamatory statements about Naughright.
At paragraph 27, the verified complaint claims that, “[s]hortly after the incident in 1996, Defendant Peyton Manning, in a crude attempt at humor, stated that ‘I’m glad it’s all behind me, no pun intended.'” Nearly two full decades later, the incident still isn’t behind him, due in large part to his decision to make mention of the situation in his book — and due to surprisingly renewed interest in a case that was never fully explored, understood, or resolved in its time.
While there’s no way to resolve the case now (it was settled years ago), the case can at least be explored and understood. PFT has obtained other documents from the official file, which will be addressed here and, possibly, in a special PFT Live podcast that will attempt to explain the entire case in detail.