Washington Commanders’ Owner Accused of Covering Up Toxic Workplace
WASHINGTON — New revelations about a toxic work environment on the Washington Commanders football team were revealed during a congressional hearing Wednesday but only after Republicans protested that the hearing never should have been held.
A key revelation came from a House Oversight and Reform Committee investigation, which was summarized in a memo sent to lawmakers.
“This memorandum describes evidence uncovered by the committee demonstrating that although publicly, the NFL and Commanders touted the hiring of a respected D.C. attorney [Beth Wilkinson] to conduct an internal investigation of the Commanders toxic workplace, privately, Commanders owner Daniel Snyder launched a shadow investigation in an apparent effort to discredit his accusers in the eyes of the NFL and offer up an alternative target for the investigation,” the memo says. “Bound together by an agreement to pursue a common interest and a joint legal strategy, the NFL and Commanders ultimately buried Ms. Wilkinson’s findings.”
Snyder ordered the official investigation by Wilkinson after a 2020 Washington Post expose of employee abuse.
The second “shadow investigation” was intended to dig up evidence that would damage the credibility of former employees, their attorneys and journalists if they lodged allegations against Snyder, the memo says.
Snyder and his top management are accused of allowing and covering up years of abuse of employees. It allegedly included sexual harassment and assault, bullying, threats and public humiliation.
Some of the worst abuse was reportedly directed against cheerleaders, who told the congressional panel they frequently endured lewd comments and sexual advances.
Rachel Engleson, who rose from an unpaid intern to senior director of marketing and client services, said in videotaped testimony played during the hearing, “This is not just about the Washington football team and its employees.”
Several employees said they would have sued or made their complaints public but they were stopped by nondisclosure agreements they signed when they joined the team.
Nondisclosure agreements, also known as confidentiality agreements, are contracts that describe confidential material, knowledge or information an employer does not want revealed. Employees or former employees who disclose the information risk getting sued by the employers.
Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney, D-N.Y., the committee’s chairwoman, used her investigation of the Commanders as a basis to introduce legislation that would limit employers’ right to use nondisclosure agreements to silence employees. It also would require the employers to investigate credible allegations of employee abuse.
“What happens in the NFL has consequences for the rest of our country,” Maloney said.
She asked Snyder to testify at the hearing but he declined, citing a business meeting in Europe he could not avoid.
“He decided to skip town,” Maloney said. She added that she would subpoena Snyder to order him to testify next week.
The only witness at the hearing was NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, who agreed with many of the complaints about Snyder and the Commanders.
“The workplace of the Washington Commanders was not only unprofessional but toxic for far too long,” Goodell said.
The NFL fined Snyder and the team more than $10 million. It also ordered revisions to personnel practices before Snyder could resume control.
“We really have made significant changes to the Commanders’ organization,” Goodell said.
Republicans said the hearing was a waste of time when the nation was facing more important issues like an economic downfall, an opioid crisis and international turmoil.
Some of them questioned whether Maloney exceeded her authority by calling for a hearing into a private business like the Commanders.
“From what we’ve heard today the problems have been fixed and the organization moves on,” said Rep. James Comer, R-Ky. “We don’t believe this was a role of Congress.”
Rep. Byron Donalds, R-Fla., accused the Democrats of grandstanding with the hearing.
“What is the purpose of continuing this?” he asked.
The hearing was held one day after The Washington Post revealed Snyder is now accused of groping a female employee in 2009, which led to a $1.6 million settlement with her. The woman said through a letter from her attorney that Snyder asked her for sex and tried to remove her clothes during a flight on a private plane while returning from a work trip in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Snyder denies the allegations.