HOUSTON — On the same week he returned to team headquarters in Berea, Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson is facing new allegations of sexual misconduct
A lawsuit filed Thursday in Harris County District Court in Texas claims Watson "attempted to solicit sexually related acts ... including intercourse" from a female massage therapist in December of 2020, when he was still a member of the Houston Texans. Watson is currently serving an 11-game suspension from the NFL after 24 similar complaints were issued against him in court, 23 of which have since been settled.
This case does not appear to be related to the previous lawsuits, as all of the plaintiffs in those cases have been represented by Texas-based attorney Tony Buzbee. In this instance, the complainant is being represented by members of the Universal Law Group in Houston.
According to the filing, Watson reached out to the plaintiff via Instagram on Dec. 17, 2020, to ask about possible massage services, something Watson has been accused of doing in prior suits. The woman had been working from home due to the COVID-19 pandemic and was "actively trying to grow her business," and was "excited and encouraged" that a professional athlete like Watson would seek her services.
The two allegedly met the next day for an appointment at the Houstonian hotel. As she was setting up her equipment, the woman claims Watson came out of the bathroom wearing only a towel and later "continually pressured [her] into massaging his private area." Watson then allegedly asked the plaintiff to have sex with him, and although she says refused to acquiesce to all of his requests, "he was able to pressure her into oral sex."
Watson then paid the woman $300 for the massage (more than double the normal rate) and left, with the plaintiff later saying he kept texting her and even asked to see her again. The lawsuit says the woman is now seeking "minimal compensatory damages" but lambasted Watson for "[using] his celebrity to take advantage of a young woman working hard for her success."
"It is to be noted that Plaintiff has suffered mental anguish because of Watson's behavior," the filing read, adding she has endured "severe depression and anxiety" and is seeking counseling. "Plaintiff brings this case for the minimum jurisdictional limits of this Honorable Court, to raise awareness, and to prevent Deshaun Watson and those like him from engaging in further conduct with future victims."
Read the entire lawsuit below:
3News spoke with attorney Anissah Nguyen from Universal Law Group, and she told us the plaintiff met with the firm multiple times over the past few weeks before eventually deciding to come forward. She noted a "disturbingly similar pattern" between her accusations and the other alleged cases that have already been in the public eye.
"The plaintiff came to us to see if we would be a good fit to help her stand up and speak out against Deshaun Watson," Nguyen added. "She knows there is incredible value and power with sharing her despite knowing it will bring on the hard conversation."
Watson has been accused of multiple incidents of sexual misconduct, including harassment and assault, since 2021. While two Texas grand juries declined to indict the 27-year-old on criminal charges, 25 women — all represented by Buzbee — filed civil lawsuits against Watson. One of the lawsuits was dropped, with Watson settling 20 of the cases in June and three others this past Aug. 1.
Details about the settlements remain confidential. Buzbee has declined to share details beyond referring to the settlement talks as "lengthy and intense." Regarding the remaining unsettled case, Buzbee said in August that he is continuing to discuss the case with Watson's legal team as appropriate.
In this latest allegation, the mention of the Houstonian is also notable, as a June report from The New York Times indicated the Texans organization provided Watson both with a room at the hotel as well as a non-disclosure agreement for his massage sessions. The team has denied any wrongdoing, but did settle 30 lawsuits of their own this past summer.
Watson reached a settlement with the NFL in August, accepting an 11-game suspension and a $5 million fine. Additionally, the three-time Pro Bowl quarterback was required to continue to undergo mental health counseling.
Watson was initially given a six-game suspension by former Federal Court Judge Sue L. Robinson, who was jointly appointed by the NFL and the NFL Players Association (NFLPA) as the independent arbiter in Watson's disciplinary case. The league appealed the ruling as part of its new disciplinary system, resulting in the aforementioned settlement.
"It is against Texas Civil procedure to file an anonymous civil law suit, though it is certainly permissible in a criminal case," Watson attorney Rusty Hardin said in an email to the Associated Press when asked about the newest lawsuit. "But in a civil case where you are seeking money, the defendant is entitled to know who you are."
While Watson is now permitted to attend team meetings, he won't be allowed to join his teammates in practice until Nov. 14. Watson is slated to make his 2022 regular season debut on Dec. 4 in the Browns' Week 13 matchup in Houston against the Texans, his former team.
WKYC has reached out to the Browns for further comment.