A 26th lawsuit alleging sexual misconduct by Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson was filed Thursday in Harris County, Texas. And though it's extremely unlikely at this point the civil suit will impact Watson's current 11-game suspension, it shows the August settlement reached between Watson and the league did not close the book on allegations against Watson.
A Texas massage therapist, who is not named in the suit, claims Watson "was able to pressure her into oral sex." The alleged assault took place Dec. 18, 2020, and the plaintiff's attorney Anissah Nguyen told CBS Sports Thursday night that they have communication between Watson and the accuser in their possession.
"No doubt, there is a pervasive and entrenched bias that imbues compassion and empathy for the Deshaun Watsons, while casting suspicion on the victims," Nguyen said in a statement provided to CBS Sports. "Is it any wonder why so many of these cases go unreported? Fear of being ostracized, fear of retribution, and fear of not being believed.
"My client is empowered by the experience she shares with the other women who have held Mr. Watson accountable for his reprehensible and illegal conduct. These women are victims, but they are also survivors, and my client refuses to be hijacked by her past."
Watson has repeatedly denied all allegations of wrongdoing. Two Texas grand juries brought no bill of indictments against Watson, and he's never been criminally charged.
"I've always been able to stand on my innocence and always said I never assaulted or disrespected anyone," Watson said in August.
Watson initially was suspended six games for violating the league's personal conduct policy. The league appealed the decision by a third-party arbitrator and sought to punish the quarterback, for whom the Browns traded and signed to a $230 million guaranteed contract in the spring, with an indefinite suspension of at least a year. Watson, in consultation with the NFL Players Association, reached a settlement agreement with the league where he would sit out the first 11 games of the season, pay a $5 million fine and undergo professional treatment from behavioral clinicians.
The settlement also covered similar violations of the personal conduct policy that took place from 2019 through the signing of the settlement in mid-August, meaning the latest civil suit would not by itself alter Watson's current status.
"Watson's status remains unchanged," the league said in a statement Friday. "We will monitor developments in the newly-filed litigation and any conduct that warrants further investigation or possible additional sanctions would be addressed within the Personal Conduct Policy."
Teams interested in Watson back in March were cognizant that more claims could emerge. The New York Times reported Watson contracted at least 66 massage therapists over a 17-month period from 2019 to 2021, and the actual number may have been higher. There has been a non-zero chance another woman (or women) would come forward with a civil suit.
In July, the Houston Texans settled claims with 30 women who either made claims against the team or planned to.
The latest lawsuit is the first to be brought by an attorney who is not Tony Buzbee, a well-known Houston-area lawyer. Buzbee represented the previous two dozen accusers.
"Many of the cases I brought were referred to me by other lawyers," Buzbee said in an email. "Many lawyers were involved in the previous cases but I accepted the cases on referral and pursued them as lead counsel."
Buzbee said he does not know the identity of the latest accuser and couldn't say whether his firm had been made aware of her allegations previously. He reached undisclosed settlements with 23 of the 24 accusers over the summer. Lauren Baxley wrote in the Daily Beast this summer that she refused Watson's settlement offers "in part because they have not included any sincere acknowledgment of remorse and wrongdoings." Buzbee said Friday that Baxley still has not settled.
"I wouldn't be surprised if you see several more cases," Buzbee wrote.
Watson continues to serve his suspension. He was able to return to the Browns facility Monday, but he cannot practice with the team until Nov. 14. As long as he fulfills the terms of his settlement agreement — including meeting with behavioral experts for treatment and no further violations of the personal conduct policy — he will be eligible to return to the field Dec. 4 in Cleveland's game against the Houston Texans.