The attorney representing two dozen women suing Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson said today that 20 of the lawsuits had been settled.
The lawyer, Tony Buzbee, said in a statement this morning that confidential settlements had been reached in every case except four. He also said he expects settlements in the four remaining cases, which include Ashley Solis, the original plaintiff and one of two accusers who told their stories to HBO’s Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel in May.
Financial terms of the settlements weren’t disclosed. The settlements mark what could be a winding down of a scandal that, along with others, has sucked up oxygen during an NFL offseason when the league preferred to focus its draft and minicamps but was instead had to contend with lawsuits over sexual misconduct and allegations of racism inside its teams.
As recently as this month, Buzbee had threatened that an additional two lawsuits would be filed, bringing the number of civil claims against Watson to 26. He also said that he planned to add the Houston Texans, Watson’s former employer, to the list of defendants after a New York Times report showed that the team may have assisted Watson with hotel accommodations and a non-disclosure agreement to use with some of his accusers.
It’s unclear whether the team was aware of Watson’s alleged conduct and the team was never named in the complaints. But it was obvious that with that new information, Buzbee thought he had more leverage to force a settlement in the case.
Watson has always denied the allegations against him. With the lawsuits settled, he still faces the a likely, and possibly lengthy suspension from the NFL.
In his statement, Buzbee lauded Solis as “one brave and strong woman” whose courage enabled the other women to come forward and who also set in motion a chain of events examining not just Watson’s alleged conduct the shining of a brighter light throughout sports.
“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,” the statement reads.
Buzbee called the other plaintiffs “warriors” who “endured vile criticism and fanatical ignorance,” while pursuing their claims against the 26-year-old NFL star.
Since Solis filed her lawsuit last fall, 23 other women joined in accusing Watson in civil lawsuits of sexually harassing them. They alleged that he used a scheme in which he would contract with them for massage therapy and then expose himself, ask for sexual favors, touch them with his penis and even masturbate during massages.
Law enforcement in the Houston area, where Watson previously was the starting quarterback for the Houston Texans franchise and where all of the alleged incidents took place, investigated the claims for months before two separate grand juries declined to charge Watson criminally.
The Browns traded for Watson in March and signed him to a record $230 million contract.