Congressional Report Blames Commanders’ Owner for Toxic Workplace and Cover-Up
WASHINGTON — A congressional report Thursday saying Washington Commanders owner Dan Snyder misled Congress while trying to cover up a toxic workplace is renewing calls for legislative reform to clamp down on sexual harassment in employment.
Snyder has been checking into possibilities for selling his football team while he faces potentially millions of dollars in fines and compensation payments.
“The time to throw a flag on this play is long past due,” said Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y. “The [National Football League] allowed Mr. Snyder to choose his own punishment, so Congress must act to protect workers, because the conduct that took place in the Commanders’ organization is not acceptable — not in the NFL, and not in any workplace.”
Maloney chairs the House Oversight and Reform Committee, which issued the report saying harassment and intimidation of team employees continued for more than two decades while senior staff continued a pattern of “ignoring and downplaying sexual misconduct.”
Snyder is accused of fondling a former female employee and authorizing employees to produce a “sexually suggestive” video of cheerleaders.
When he was confronted by an investigation of misconduct, Snyder is suspected of trying to dig up embarrassing facts on his accusers and using the information to intimidate them.
The report says his attorneys offered hush money to some whistleblowers, despite Snyder’s earlier denials that he tried to interfere with investigations into him or his team.
He remains under investigation by the Virginia attorney general for alleged financial improprieties. Commanders’ bookkeepers said Snyder wrongfully withheld refunds from season ticket holders and concealed revenue that was supposed to be shared with the NFL.
The allegations led to the congressional investigation. Snyder testified remotely to the Oversight and Reform Committee in July.
The committee’s report called Snyder evasive after he said more than 100 times that he did not know or could not recall information as lawmakers questioned him, “including basic inquiries about his role as team owner and multiple allegations of misconduct.”
In one example, Snyder admitted using private investigators to check up on his accusers but said he was “unaware” who his investigators contacted and could not remember his conversations with his own attorneys about “the individuals targeted,” the report said.
Other allegations in the report were directed at the NFL, which the committee accused of trying to interfere with its yearlong investigation.
The NFL hired attorney Beth Wilkinson to conduct its investigation of Washington’s football team after an investigative news report revealed employees’ complaints. Her investigation led the NFL to fine the team $10 million.
The congressional committee said the NFL investigation was largely a sham intended to protect its image of integrity.
“Despite making public pledges to cooperate with the committee’s investigation, the NFL and the Commanders did not fully comply with the committee’s requests for documents and information,” the report said. “The league, working closely with the Commanders through a previously undisclosed common interest agreement, refused to produce more than 40,000 responsive documents, including the findings of the Wilkinson investigation and materials from Ms. Wilkinson’s files.”
Lawmakers said several times during their investigation that problems with Washington’s football team were merely an example that showed the need for new workplace legislation.
Maloney introduced a bill in June, called the Accountability for Workplace Misconduct Act, that would limit the right of employers to use nondisclosure agreements that silence their critics among employees. It also would require employers to get the consent of employees to take or distribute images of them.
The nondisclosure agreement provisions followed revelations that Snyder appeared to have forced a female employee who accused him of sexual assault into silence with a $1.6 million payment and a signed pledge not to discuss the situation.
The ban on nonconsensual employee images appears to be a result of the sexually suggestive video of Washington cheerleaders.
A second bill introduced by Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., would eliminate tax breaks for professional sports teams.
Both bills are pending. They face uncertainties as a Republican majority takes over Congress in January.
Rep. James Comer, R-Ky., the incoming chairman of the Oversight and Reform Committee, said the investigation of Snyder and the Commanders would end in the next session of Congress.
He said the investigation was “a misuse of resources” and intended to “gain cheap headlines and ignore any information that did not align with [Democrats’] predetermined narrative.”