When the news broke last week that Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson had reached settlements in 20 of the 24 civil cases pending against him, many wondered whether attorney Tony Buzbee would proceed with his vow to sue the Texans for their alleged role in enabling Watson’s alleged misconduct. An answer has arrived, in the form of the first lawsuit against the Texans arising from the Watson situation.
“Today we filed the first case of what will likely be many against the Houston Texans related to Deshaun Watson’s behavior,” Buzbee said in a press release. “Suffice it to say, the overwhelming evidence collected indicating that the Houston Texans enabled Watson’s behavior is incredibly damning. We believe the Texans knew or most certainly should have known of Watson’s conduct. Beyond that, we believe the filing speaks for itself.”
The lawsuit, filed by Toi Garner against Houston NFL Holdings, L.P., contends that Watson requested a massage from her 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 Plaintiff by aggressively exposing his naked body to her, purposely touching her with his penis, and ultimately ejaculating onto her,” the petition alleges.
The petition alleges that Watson consistently refused to have massages performed at the team’s facility, and that he refused to utilize the services of the team’s selected massage therapy provider, Genuine Touch. At page 2, the petition alleges that, in June 2020, the owner of Genuine Touch “complained to the Texans that Watson was seeking out unqualified strangers for massages via Instagram,” and that “Watson was putting himself in danger of contracting Covid, or getting himself sued.”
The petition at page three accuses the Texans of turning a “blind eye” to Watson’s behavior, and that the team actually enabled it by providing the NDA, by providing a room at The Houstonian in which Watson underwent massages, and by giving him a massage table to utilize for these sessions.
“Watson was a Houston Texans’ employee; individuals within the Texans organization knew or should have known of Watson’s conduct,” the petition contends. Surprisingly, the petition contends at page four that multiple employees of Genuine Touch were aware that multiple Genuine Touch therapists had sexual relations with Watson during massage sessions.
The Texans never investigated Watson, per the petition. Instead, the Texans gave him a nondisclosure agreement that would protect him against the random massage therapists he was hiring via social media.
The lawsuit seeks to impose liability on the Texans in various ways. It argues that Watson was acting within the scope of his employment when seeking these massages, making the team directly responsible for his behavior. (That is a very aggressive position, since it’s difficult to envision how or why Watson was doing anything other than acting in his own capacity in seeking these massages.) It also argues that the Texans failed to prevent Watson’s ongoing misconduct, once the team knew or should have known that he was engaged in questionable behavior. Finally, it contends that the Texans and Watson engaged in a civil conspiracy that resulted in Watson’s alleged assaults.
The Texans have issued 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 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 “without merit” response to any and all allegations against it. Given that Watson already has testified that the NDA came from the Texans, the team may realize that it has a problem. The ultimate defense for the team may reside more in legal arguments (for example, it had no legal duty to protect the individuals Watson allegedly mistreated) than in factual ones.
Regardless, the settlement of 20 cases, with four still remaining, should not be regarded as a sign that the legal cases are ending. For the Texans, they’re just getting started. And, for Watson, he still may find himself testifying at multiple trials of the cases not filed against him but against his former team.