Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson has reached a confidential settlement with all but four of the 24 women who sued him and accused him of sexual misconduct during massage sessions in 2020 and early 2021, the women’s attorney said Tuesday.
The settlements end the women’s litigation against him nearly 15 months after most were filed in 2021.
“Today I announce that all cases against Deshaun Watson, with the exception of four, have settled,” plaintiffs attorney Tony Buzbee said in a statement. “We are working through the paperwork related to those settlements. Once we have done so, those particular cases will be dismissed. The terms and amounts of the settlements are confidential. We won’t comment further on the settlements or those cases.”
Settling the cases allows Watson to move on from most of the litigation after it generated regular ugly headlines about him, at least somewhat spoiling his recent arrival in Cleveland as the new $230 million quarterback of the Browns. Settling the cases also helps him avoid several days of deposition testimony that were scheduled for him this week. Those depositions are no longer going forward.
A big question now is how the settlements might affect any decision to suspend him under the NFL’s personal conduct policy. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said in May the investigation into the allegations against Watson was nearing an end, but it’s not clear what the league knew about two new lawsuits filed against Watson this year or information that came out of recent pretrial discovery.
Watson’s attorney, Rusty Hardin, declined comment Tuesday when contacted by USA TODAY Sports.
Hardin had said the women were lying and that Buzbee viewed Watson as a “payday” after the women accused Watson of improper behavior, including exposing himself, causing his genitals to touch them and in some cases coercing sex.
Watson, 26, never was arrested or charged after two grand juries in Texas declined to indict him. There could have been several reasons the grand juries chose not to indict him, including a lack of hard evidence in these cases individually when Watson’s word was pitted against those of the women. Only one of the criminal complainants was called in to testify at the Harris County grand jury proceeding in March even though other complainants there were subpoenaed and ready to testify, Buzbee told USA TODAY Sports previously.
One of the cases that did not settle is the lawsuit of the first plaintiff to sue Watson, Ashley Solis. Buzbee said he looks forward to trying her case and the others remaining active in due course.
“The cases against Deshaun Watson started with one phone call, from one brave and strong woman,” Buzbee stated. “That woman was Ashley Solis. At the time of that call she was just one of the hundreds of calls seeking legal assistance that our firm gets weekly. Even though she was originally turned away by our screening process, my staff insisted that I personally speak with her. I’m glad she persisted. Once we took a second look, and after having contact with Watson’s original lawyer who disrespected Ashley and her profession and who arrogantly minimized the conduct of someone he referred to as an ‘asset,’ I was convinced that our law firm should try to help her.
“As a result of Ashley’s lone but brave voice, soon many women who had allegedly experienced the same conduct were emboldened to step forward. I am incredibly proud to represent them all. They have endured vile criticism and fanatical ignorance. They faced withering cross examination by skilled litigators and stood firm. They are warriors all. Today we have an important announcement about these cases, but it is important to point out that, without Ashley Solis, the conduct experienced by these women would likely have continued unfettered. The truth is, without her courage and willingness to come forward, the NFL wouldn’t currently be contemplating discipline; there would be no examination of how teams might knowingly or unknowingly enable certain behavior; sports teams wouldn’t be reviewing their personnel screening processes; and this important story wouldn’t have dominated the sports headlines for more than a year.”
One of the newest lawsuits against Watson noted that Watson previously had offered each Plaintiff $100,000 to settle their cases, but not all would accept that amount, “due to the aggressive nondisclosure agreement that Watson’s team proposed.” Similarly, the terms of the settlements might never be revealed.
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