Washington Football Team Hit By $10 Million Harassment Fine
WASHINGTON — The National Football League announced a $10 million fine against the Washington Football Team Thursday after finding sexual harassment and bullying of employees to be a persistent problem.
Much of the blame in the NFL’s report fell on team owner Dan Snyder, who then announced his wife, Tanya, would take over most of his responsibilities as chief executive officer.
The NFL said Snyder should have been more aggressive in reining in abusive behavior of his top executives. The league also faulted Snyder’s personal behavior.
Snyder apologized in a statement that said, “I feel great remorse for the people who had difficult, even traumatic, experiences while working here. I’m truly sorry for that. I can’t turn back the clock, but I promise that nobody who works here will ever have that kind of experience again, at least not as long as Tanya and I are the owners of this team.”
The NFL hired Washington attorney Beth Wilkinson to lead its investigation of the Washington Football Team. The league put out a news release that discussed the investigation but declined to give out more detail.
Wilkinson made 10 recommendations for improving sensitivity training and diversity on the team’s workforce. It included a recommendation for employees to report misconduct.
The NFL did not recommend the Snyders sell or exit the Washington Football Team, only improve behavior.
“Over the past 18 months, Dan and Tanya have recognized the need for change and have undertaken important steps to make the workplace comfortable and dignified for all employees, and those changes, if sustained and built upon, should allow the club to achieve its goal of having a truly first-tier workplace,” NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said in a statement. “I truly appreciate their commitment to fully implement each of the below 10 recommendations, but the league also must ensure accountability for past deficiencies and for living up to current and future commitments.”
Snyder will be allowed to continue working on plans for a new stadium but Goodell must decide whether Snyder can resume daily oversight of the team.
The $10 million fine will be contributed to organizations that encourage character education, anti-bullying and healthy relationships. Snyder also must pay Wilkinson’s fees, estimated to be several million dollars.
The fine was the highest penalty the NFL has assessed against one of its teams.
Wilkinson interviewed nearly 150 of the team’s employees, some of whom were mentioned in the Washington Post story that led the NFL to investigate. She found evidence of a secretive $1.6 million settlement won by a female former employee who said Snyder sexually harassed her on his plane in 2009.
On another occasion, a former cheerleader said Snyder humiliated her at a charity event by suggesting she join him and a friend in a hotel room to “get to know each other better.”
The harshest criticism fell on some of Snyder’s top executives. In one case, a video producer said team radio announcer Larry Michael requested secret production of a lewd video from a cheerleader calendar shoot. It featured moments of nudity.
Michael was one of three employees who left the club days before the Washington Post published its first story. Another one was Alex Santos, director of pro personnel.
Snyder originally hired Wilkinson but her investigation was taken over by the NFL after the Post published another story with additional allegations of team managers’ misconduct.
The team’s former general counsel sued Wilkinson last November in U.S. District Court in Virginia to block her from publicly divulging details of a former employee’s settlement. He dropped the lawsuit weeks later.
However, a legal dispute with the team continues to prevent other potentially embarrassing documents from being released.
It’s been a rough year for the Washington Football Team, even before the $10 million fine.
In 2020, Snyder was forced to give up on his pledge to never change the name of the team from the Washington Redskins. He said he wanted to uphold the team’s tradition dating to 1932 while critics of the name said it was racially insensitive to Native Americans.
About the same time, Snyder became entangled in a legal dispute with three of the team’s minority owners who wanted to sell their stake. The dispute started in federal court in Maryland but ended with NFL arbitration and an agreement by Snyder to buy out his former partners.
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