Washington, D.C. attorney general Karl Racine announced Thursday that his office has filed a consumer protection lawsuit against the Washington Commanders, owner Daniel Snyder, the NFL, and NFL commissioner Roger Goodell for “colluding to deceive the residents … about an investigation into toxic workplace culture.”
Washington Commanders Facing Lawsuit
In July 2020, the NFL hired attorney Beth Wilkinson to investigate sexual harassment and other misconduct inside the Commanders’ workplace. That investigation ended one year later when Wilkinson delivered an oral report to the league.
The Commanders were fined $10 million, and Snyder temporarily stepped away from the day-to-day operations of the club.
However, Racine said the NFL “buried” the results of Wilkinson’s investigation and misled the public “to hide the truth, protect their images, and let the profits continue to roll.”
“Faced with public outrage over detailed and widespread allegations of sexual misconduct and a persistently hostile work environment at the Team, Defendants made a series of public statements to convince District consumers that this dysfunctional and misogynistic conduct was limited and that they were fully cooperating with an independent investigation,” the lawsuit says.
“These statements were false and calculated to mislead consumers so they would continue to support the Team financially without thinking that they were supporting such misconduct.”
The lawsuit alleges that Snyder interfered in what was supposed to be an independent investigation and sought to “silence or intimidate witnesses.” Racine also said the NFL “entered into a secret agreement that gave Snyder power to veto the release of any results.”
Racine said his office will seek a court order to require the NFL to release the findings of Wilkinson’s investigation. He also noted he would seek subpoenas as part of this lawsuit.
Over the summer, Snyder repeatedly refused a subpoena from the House Oversight Committee before eventually agreeing to testify remotely. However, he was not under oath during his testimony.
Racine noted his office is seeking financial penalties “for every incident in which the Commanders, Mr. Snyder, the NFL, and Commissioner Goodell lied to District residents dating back to July 2020.” He added the defendants “could face millions of dollars in penalties.”
The NFL, in a statement provided to Pro Football Network, called the allegations “baseless.”
“The independent investigation into workplace misconduct at the Washington Commanders was thoroughly and comprehensively conducted by Beth Wilkinson and her law firm,” said Brian McCarthy, the league’s vice president of communications. “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.
“We reject the legally unsound and factually baseless allegations made today by the D.C. Attorney General against the NFL and Commissioner Goodell and will vigorously defend against those claims.”
Lisa Banks and Debra Katz, attorneys representing more than 40 former Commanders employees, issued a statement on the lawsuit.
“For far too long, the NFL has actively concealed wrongdoing by the Washington Commanders and has shielded Mr. Snyder from accountability at every turn. The NFL must understand that sexual harassment and abuse cannot be tolerated or concealed.
“If Commissioner Goodell and the NFL are genuinely committed to protecting their employees, they would also publicly release the findings of the Wilkinson investigation and use those findings as a blueprint for creating safer workplaces throughout the NFL.”
The Commanders’ Response
The Commanders issued a statement on Wednesday night after Racine had announced his upcoming press conference. Washington referenced the summer shooting of rookie running back Brian Robinson in an effort to criticize Racine’s office, which drew a rebuke from Washington’s agent and most observers. Team president Jason Wright later issued a more muted response.
“I just spoke to Chief Contee, conveying how much we support the work of MPD, as well as public safety leaders and elected officials working to reduce gun violence and crime across the region,” Wright said.
“The earlier statement expressed our external counsel’s ongoing frustration with the Attorney General’s office, as they have been nothing but earnest and transparent in their communications with this team. The lawyers’ legitimate frustrations with the AG should have been separate and apart from referencing the terrible crime that affected our player.”
Thursday’s lawsuit comes roughly one week after Forbes reported Snyder hired Bank of America to help sell all or part of his stake in the Commanders. Colts owner Jim Irsay recently became the first owner to publicly state “there’s merit to remove” Snyder as the Commanders’ owner.