Former ROH star Kelly Klein has filed an Employment Discrimination lawsuit against the company, and parent company Sinclair Broadcasting.
Klein filed a 28-page lawsuit against Ring of Honor and Sinclair on Wednesday, February 25, according to HeelByNature. Names listed as parties in the lawsuit are ROH General Manager Greg Gilliand, Senior Producer/Creative Director and ROH Dojo Head Trainer Hunter Johnson (Delirous), ROH COO and Vice President of Training & Development Joe Koff, and current ROH World Tag Team Champion Jay Lethal (Jamar Shipman).
Klein alleges that she was terminated from her ROH contract on December 31, 2019 because of “her complaints regarding the disparate pay for WHO female wrestlers, the lack of safety and medical protocols after Plaintiff suffered the concussion in October of 2019, and the sexual harassment at ROH,” according to the lawsuit.
Klein’s complaint alleges breach of implied contract; unpaid royalties; violation of state and federal equal pay acts, and abusive discharge; discrimination and harassment, and unsafe work environment.
Klein is seeking $75,000, including, but not limited to the following: Declaratory judgment from this Court as set forth and requested herein; Compensatory damages including, but not limited to past and future medical bills, past and future lost wages, and lost earning capacity; Damages as set forth in Md. Code Ann. Lab. & Empl. § 3-307(a) and/or 29 U.S.C. § 206(d); Annoyance, aggravation, inconvenience, loss of enjoyment of life, emotional distress; mental anguish; Consequential and incidental damages; (F) Court costs and expenses incurred in this action; Pre and post judgment interest; (H) Attorneys’ costs and fees; All such damages and relief as are available under Maryland Code § 2-305, et seq. or other applicable Maryland law; All such other and further relief as this Court deems just and proper.
Klein first joined ROH in October 2015, but it was announced in November 2019 that the company would not be re-signing her, while she was the reigning Women of Honor World Champion. Klein and her husband at the time, current AEW producer and ROH veteran BJ Whitmer, were upset over the way the departure was handled as she had been recovering from post-concussion syndrome. Before being released Klein accused the company of not paying her a living wage, and not allowing her proper time off to heal. She also called them out on Twitter for not having a proper concussion protocol. It was reported that her comments led to ROH passing up on re-signing her.
Below are several excerpts from the lawsuit where Klein detailed incidents in the company:
INJURIES SUFFERED BY KLEIN AND OTHER PERFORMERS
As a result of Defendants’ negligence and illegal actions, Klein and other wrestlers suffered many injuries while performing services for ROH.
Although professional wrestling matches are predetermined, the action that occurs in the ring can lead to serious injury. As such, wrestling companies are supposed to maintain proper and adequate medical personnel on site and render proper medical care. ROH did not provide adequate medical supervision, evaluation, or care at wrestling matches for Klein and their other performers
On or about September 16, 2016, Klein had a wrestling match at the Stage AE venue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and hit her head and neck on a steel guardrail during the match. Nobody employed or engaged by Defendants checked on Klein’s condition and no medical staff was available to evaluate her. Immediately following the wrestling match, Klein reported her injury to Whitmer who was Defendants’ agent in charge of the match, but no medical treatment was made available. Klein continued to suffer from headaches and pain from the impact of the guardrail through October 2016 so she told Johnston that she was going to seek treatment for the pain. Johnston did not offer any information, guidance or information regarding treatment. Klein sought treatment at her own expense, was never reimbursed any of the costs by Defendants and Defendants never reached out to Klein about her injuries or the costs related thereto.
On or about April 7, 2018 at the UNO Arena in New Orleans, Klein was wrestling another female who kicked Klein in the head and pulled on Klein’s head causing a concussion. As a result of being disoriented from the concussion, Klein was unable to “kick out” of a pin attempt (kick her legs such that her shoulders would be raised from the mat which would signal the referee to stop counting the pin) thereby resulting in the wrong finish for the scripted ending of the match. Despite Defendants knowing that the finish of the match was botched, Defendants did not check on Klein. Klein reported the injury to Defendants’ agent in charge of the match, Whitmer, but there were no medical personnel available to address her injury and no medical treatment was rendered. Klein never sought treatment for her concussion.
On or about June 2, 2018, Klein’s tooth was broken in a ROH match in the Hammerstein Ballroom at the Manhattan Center in New York City and, again, Klein reported the injury to Defendants’ agent in charge of the match, Whitmer, but there were no medical personnel available to address her injury and no medical treatment was rendered. Klein sought medical treatment from a dentist for her injury and the tooth was capped. Despite ROH asking Klein for her x-rays and referencing her broken tooth both on their website and on an episode of their television show (episode 356, air date 7.13.2018), Defendants never followed up to check on Klein, request that she submit her medical bills or to reimburse her. Per Klein’s request, she was eventually reimbursed for the medical treatment related to the chipped tooth.
On or about December 14, 2018, Klein had an in-person conversation with Ian Riccaboni, an announcer for ROH, advising him that many of the female wrestlers did not feel safe in the wrestling ring with women wrestlers who were reckless and not properly trained. Klein advised Riccaboni that ROH management did not take the safety of their performers seriously otherwise a lot of the female talent engaged by ROH would not be participating in matches. Riccaboni told Klein that he understood the concern but that Todd Sinclair, who was the main booker for female matches, really liked those reckless women wrestlers but that he would have a talk with him about it (note that in professional wrestling, the “booker” is the person who sets up the wrestling matches, the storylines and the predetermined endings to the wrestling matches).
On or about January 30, 2019, Klein had a conversation with Todd Sinclair in Baltimore, Maryland regarding Klein’s safety concerns, specifically female talent being forced to work in matches they felt unsafe in and with people they did not feel safe with. Todd Sinclair told Klein that it was the first he had heard about these issues despite Klein previously overhearing another performer complaining to Mr. Sinclair about certain wrestlers being reckless and unsafe. Mr. Sinclair further explained that the unsafe, reckless women were only booked for a few more dates and asked that Klein work through those dates and that in the future Klein and others would be asked ahead of time if they agreed to work with those problematic performers. Klein had a similar conversation following a March 15, 2019 match in Las Vegas with Todd Sinclair, Johnston, and other ROH agents wherein she was also injured but the conversation fell on deaf ears. Klein did not seek treatment for her injury in the match.
On or about Saturday, April 6, 2019 at a sold-out ROH event at Madison Square Garden in New York City during her women’s championship wrestling match, Klein was hurt as a result of a kick to the head. Klein attempted to protect herself by going outside the ring to the floor. Klein was outside the ring on the floor when the other female wrestler climbed to the top of the ring and dived on Klein. Klein caught the other wrestler to prevent her from being injured, but Klein hit her head during the catch. Klein remembers telling someone who walked by her that she needed a minute to recover. Klein also attempted to let the referee know she was hurt, but she cannot remember how long she was dazed and/or unconscious. Klein finished the match and was surprised that neither the referee nor any other representative of ROH was there to check on her. Instead, Defendants permitted wrestlers to enter the ring and perform, including a wrestling move to Klein, despite Klein remaining injured in the ring. After the match, someone Klein did not recognize told her to go do an interview.
On or about September 28, 2019, another female wrestler struck her head during a match. Klein sent a text message to Gilliand. He said it was a “judgment call” and that Gary (member of management) was on-site No management ever came to check on the injured wrestler who was being seen by EMT’s.
On or about October 12, 2019 in New Orleans, Klein discovered that her opponent was not up-to-date on her bloodwork, which is required for licensing in various states. Defendants are responsible for ensuring that all required bloodwork is completed.
On or about October 26, 2019 in Newport, Wales, Klein was defending her title against Lana Austin. During the match, Austin injured Klein’s head, which left Klein confused and disoriented. She continued wrestling approximately six more minutes. Klein believes she informed Marty Scurll she was injured, but she was talking incoherently and was unable to form sentences. After the match, she was lying on the floor in the dressing room for an hour and after people heard her rambling incoherently for almost an hour, Mandy Leon (another wrestler) went to get help. Nobody from management ever came to check on Klein. EMT’s arrived to check on her after one hour passed
On or about November 7, 2019, Klein met with Koff regarding, in part, safety issues surrounding the wrestling performances. Koff stated that a concussion protocol existed and that medical staff were always available. Klein advised him that medical staff was not always available nor were they identified to Klein or the other wrestlers. Klein further explained that none of the wrestlers were aware of a concussion protocol or that medical staff was always available.
DISCRIMINATION AND HARASSMENT
During the time that the Agreement and Amendment was in effect, Klein and all other female wrestlers were paid a lower wage than their comparable male counterparts.
On or about January 13, 2017, while Klein was in a hot tub near the pool of a hotel where the wrestlers were staying the night before an event, Shipman approached Klein and, while leering at her in a way that made Klein uncomfortable, started harassing her by asking her questions about whether her boyfriend was there, if she was staying in the hotel alone and how long she would be at the hotel. Shipman’s behavior made Klein very uncomfortable.
On or about January 25, 2017, Klein received an email from ROH management advising her and the other wrestlers that Shipman would be the new agent assigned to work with the female wrestlers. One day later, Klein responded to the e-mail and explained that she had witnessed and experienced several situations with Shipman that made her uncomfortable to work with him. She advised ROH management that she was not willing to work with Shipman and requested that another agent be assigned to her matches. Klein went on to explain that she had not expressed this sooner for fear of backlash or retaliation
In February of 2017, BJ Whitmer, another male wrestler signed to ROH, was informed by Shipman that Johnston informed Shipman that Klein had complained about him.
In July of 2018, Sinclair, by and through their human resources department, spoke with Klein regarding another female wrestler’s complaints regarding Shipman. Klein informed the department of her situation with Shipman in 2017 and was informed that no information had been received and no investigation was done. Klein also informed the department that Shipman knew she accused him of sexually harassing behavior
On or about November 3, 2018, a meeting between the female wrestlers and ROH management occurred. Todd Sinclair, Koff, Riccaboni, and Johnston were present. The discussion centered around the disparate treatment between the male and female talent of ROH despite the success of the female division of ROH. Specifically, the female talent discussed the lack of storylines; the way women were portrayed; the amount of television exposure, and why they were not being represented more in the marketing of the show. Management advised the female wrestlers that there was not enough time on the show so management was forced to think outside the box, producing YouTube content and social media marketing regarding the female talent
On or about December 17, 2018, Klein had email correspondence and a phone conversation with Gilliand regarding her salary. Specifically, after she saw the initial offer for $20,000.00 for 2019, she asked if it would be possible for her salary to be increased to $24,000.00. Gilliand rejected this because he stated that all female wrestlers in ROH were paid the same and that if he paid Klein more, then all of the other women wrestlers would have to be paid more. This salary was substantially below the salary that the male wrestlers were paid and the decision to pay the salary was based upon the fact that Klein was a female. Klein was asked to make more appearances, with no limit regarding the frequency of appearances, than the other female talent. Plaintiff learned that at least one male member of ROH talent was paid $184,000.00 and was afforded single-occupancy rooming.
On or about January 30, 2019, Klein had a discussion with Sinclair regarding the lack of creativity in the female talent’s storylines as compared to the male talent
On or about March 7, 2019, Klein was informed by Adam Birch that someone in management did not want her to go to training because Shipman would be there
On or about September 30, 2019, Klein had a discussion with Lauren Sisselman, a ROH employee who arranges travel, regarding Klein traveling to the dojo in Baltimore to train. Lauren said Gilliand had told her that if Shipman was going to be there, that Klein could not be there and instructed her to wait to confirm Shipman’s presence before allowing Klein to come.
On or about November 7, 2019, Klein met with Koff to discuss fair pay and sexual harassment. A human resources employee from Sinclair Broadcasting, Caitlin, was also present. Plaintiff advised Koff that the salaries for the female talent were not comparable to that of the male talent. Further, Klein complained about the sexual harassment by Shipman. Koff said he thought it had been resolved. Plaintiff told him it had not, but Plaintiff had just stopped talking about it because nothing had ever been done. Plaintiff had brought this up to HR in 2018 and that management had revealed her name to Shipman/Jay Lethal, even though there was no formal investigation, which created a hostile work environment for her. Koff stated that there was no documentation for the 2018 claim and that HR was only for employees and she was not an employee. When Klein asked for policies, Koff informed her that her contract was her “handbook.”
Plaintiff alleges that the Defendants terminated her contract as of December 31, 2019, because of her complaints regarding the disparate pay for WHO female wrestlers, the lack of safety and medical protocols after Plaintiff suffered the concussion in October of 2019, and the sexual harassment at ROH.
FAILURE TO PROVIDE A SAFE PLACE OF EMPLOYMENT
For her Seventh Claim, Plaintiff Kelly Klein incorporates the allegations of all of the foregoing Paragraphs as if fully restated herein.
Sinclair and ROH have a statutory and common law duty to provide a safe place of employment for their employees, employees of other entities, and independent contractors.
Sinclair and ROH breached their duties by failing to have a concussion protocol, failing to have medically trained personnel at all wrestling matches, and failing to properly observe other requirements related to maintaining a place of employment.
As a direct and proximate result of Sinclair and ROH’s breach of duty, Klein suffered severe and permanent injuries, incurred medical expenses, suffered lost wages, and experienced pain, suffering, inconvenience, and other nonpecuniary damages. Said damages are continuing in nature and permanent
VIOLATION OF STATE AND FEDERAL EQUAL PAY ACTS
For her Eighth Claim, Plaintiff Kelly Klein incorporates the allegations of all of the foregoing Paragraphs as if fully restated herein
Sinclair and ROH discriminated against Klein on the basis of her sex by paying her compensation that was less than were paid to male wrestlers despite the fact that the performance by male and female wrestler requires equal skill, effort, and responsibility, and are performed under similar working conditions.
The disparity in the rate of pay violated federal and state statutes prohibiting discrimination in pay rates based upon sex.
Sinclair and ROH terminated Klein’s employment in violation of Md. Code Ann., Lab. & Empl. § 3-308.
Klein seeks damages as set forth in Md. Code Ann. Lab. & Empl. § 3-307(a) and/or 29 U.S.C. § 206(d) to the extent that a duplication of damages does not occur.
Klein has not wrestled since retaining her title over Lana Austin at a ROH Honor United live event in Newport, England on October 26, 2019.
Stay tuned for more on Klein’s lawsuit against ROH. Courtesy of HeelByNature, below is the full filing: