DC Attorney General Sues NFL and Washington Commanders’ Owner 

November 10, 2022 by Tom Ramstack
DC Attorney General Sues NFL and Washington Commanders’ Owner 
Washington Commanders' Dan Snyder poses for photos during an event to unveil the NFL football team's new identity, Feb. 2, 2022, in Landover, Md. Snyder and his organization are the subject of multiple ongoing investigations over workplace misconduct and potential financial improprieties. The D.C. attorney general opened an investigation into the team around the time the U.S. House Committee for Oversight and Reform referred its case to the Federal Trade Commission. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, File)

WASHINGTON — The District of Columbia’s attorney general on Thursday revealed deep-seated deceit in an independent investigation that started in 2020 of a hostile work environment at Washington’s professional football team.

He made the allegations against team owner Dan Snyder and National Football League Commissioner Roger Goodell as he announced a lawsuit against them and their organizations.

A statement from the D.C. attorney general’s office said, “The Commanders and Dan Snyder lied to D.C. residents about what they knew about a toxic culture of sexual harassment and then they entered into a secret agreement with the NFL and Commissioner Goodell that kept the truth from D.C. residents — all in an effort to protect their profits.”

D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine said at a press conference that as the NFL kept up the image of an independent investigation, Goodell was secretly telling Snyder what the investigators were finding.

In addition, Goodell was giving Snyder the option of how to respond to the findings and what information should be publicly released, Racine said. 

The investigation started after The Washington Post in July 2020 reported widespread sexual harassment of cheerleaders and other female employees followed by intimidation if they threatened to go public with their complaints.

The news reports also accused Snyder and the formerly named Washington Redskins of financial improprieties.

“We were led to believe that Mr. Snyder would not interfere with the independent investigation,” Racine said. “He did.”

Racine filed the lawsuit in D.C. Superior Court under the District of Columbia’s Consumer Protection Procedures Act. The law bans misleading statements by merchants or businesses that could cause harm to local residents.

In this case, the harm was a toxic workplace for the renamed Washington Commanders employees as well as for fans who bought tickets or merchandise from them based on their good reputation, according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit seeks financial penalties and a court order requiring the NFL to publicly release findings from the 10-month independent investigation into the Commanders’ workplace culture.

Racine declined to specify an amount for the financial penalties he sought or predict what a court might impose.

“I think it’s going to be a lot of zeroes,” he said.

When The Washington Post reported the allegations, Snyder put out a statement denying any knowledge of sexual harassment, a hostile work environment or financial improprieties. He also hired an attorney to investigate, saying he wanted to figure out the truth.

The NFL took over the investigation after saying Snyder might have a conflict of interest if he oversaw the investigation himself. Goodell pledged it would be an independent investigation.

Racine said the secret agreement between Goodell and Snyder showed there never was an honest independent investigation.

“Does any part of this investigation sound independent? Does any of this sound like accountability?” Racine said. “Of course not. That’s why we’re suing.”

He added, “In fact, the evidence shows Snyder was not only aware of the toxic culture within his organization, he encouraged it and he participated in it.”

The truth was that Snyder tried to silence his critics by paying them to sign nondisclosure agreements or intimidating them by threatening to reveal embarrassing facts about them, according to the results of the attorney general’s yearlong investigation that started last fall.

Many of the alleged improprieties took place in Virginia and Maryland, where the Washington Commanders’ stadium is located, Racine said.

His lawsuit falls under consumer protection law but attorneys in Virginia and Maryland might want to consider court action to vindicate the civil rights of cheerleaders who endured sexual harassment, he said.

“I would invite the legal authorities in those jurisdictions to stand up for the victims,” Racine said.

Attorneys for the Commanders issued a statement Thursday saying, “Over two years ago, Dan and Tanya Snyder acknowledged that an unacceptable workplace culture had existed within their organization for several years and they have apologized many times for allowing that to happen,” they said. “We agree with AG Racine on one thing: the public needs to know the truth. Although the lawsuit repeats a lot of innuendo, half-truths and lies, we welcome this opportunity to defend the organization — for the first time — in a court of law and to establish, once and for all, what is fact and what is fiction.”

The NFL issued a statement denying any deceit in their investigation.

“The independent investigation into workplace misconduct at the Washington Commanders was thoroughly and comprehensively conducted by Beth Wilkinson and her law firm,” the NFL statement said. “Following the completion of the investigation, the NFL made public a summary of Ms. Wilkinson’s findings and imposed a record-setting fine against the club and its ownership.”

In July, Snyder testified before a congressional committee investigating allegations of workplace misconduct in the NFL.

Tom can be reached at [email protected] and @TomRamstack

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