DC Attorney General Karl Racine on Thursday announced a lawsuit against beleaguered Washington Commanders owner Dan Snyder, the team and the NFL, alleging they colluded to mislead DC residents about an NFL investigation into the team’s toxic workplace culture and sexual assault allegations.
“For years, the team and its owner did very real, very serious damage and then lied about it to dodge responsibility and continue to reap profits,” Racine said Thursday. “So far they seem to have got away with it, but it stops today.”
The lawsuit alleges these deceptive efforts to keep fans in the dark and boost the team’s profits. The lawsuit cites the District of Columbia’s Consumer Protection Procedures Act, which gives the attorney general broad authority to hold individuals or a company liable for deceptive customers.
The AG’s investigation began last fall and found Snyder lied to DC residents when he denied knowledge of allegations of a hostile work environment and culture of sexual harassment within the company. team, according to Racine.
“In fact, the evidence shows that Snyder was not only aware of the toxic culture within his organization, he encouraged it and participated in it,” Racine said. “Mr. Snyder exercised a high level of personal control over everything commanders did and his misconduct gave others permission to treat women in the same degrading way.
The NFL and commanders launched what they billed as an independent investigation into the allegations, but secretly cut a deal to give Snyder power over what could be shared with the public, according to the lawsuit. At the same time, Snyder and the team attempted to interfere and obstruct the investigation, the lawsuit states.
Ultimately, the NFL issued a short press release summarizing the findings of the investigation, but said it had not received a written investigation report due to confidentiality concerns, the lawsuit says.
“Does any part of this investigation seem independent? Does all this sound like responsibility? Racine said. “Of course not. That’s why we’re suing.
Racine is now seeking unspecified financial penalties for every incident in which parties have lied to residents since July 2020. The attorney general said the penalties could run into the millions of dollars. The lawsuit also seeks a court order requiring the NFL to release all findings from its 10-month investigation into the work culture of commanders.
Attorneys for Commanders John Brownlee and Stuart Nash released a joint statement in response to the lawsuit.
“Over two years ago, Dan and Tanya Snyder acknowledged that an unacceptable work culture had existed within their organization for several years and they repeatedly apologized for allowing it to happen,” they said. they stated. “We agree with AG Racine on one thing: the public needs to know the truth. Although the lawsuit repeats many innuendos, half-truths and lies, we welcome this opportunity to defend the organization – for the first time – in court and to establish, once and for all, what is fact and what is fiction. .”
NFL Vice President of Communications Brian McCarthy dismissed the allegations as baseless.
“The independent investigation into workplace misconduct among Washington commanders was conducted thoroughly and comprehensively by Beth Wilkinson and her law firm. Following the completion of the investigation, the NFL released a summary of Ms Wilkinson’s findings and imposed a record fine on the club and its owners,” he said.
“We reject the legally unfounded and factually baseless allegations made today by the DC Attorney General against the NFL and Commissioner Goodell and we will vigorously defend ourselves against these allegations.”
The announcement is just the latest issue for the commanders, with the newly-scarred team mired in several major investigations. Once one of the NFL’s premier franchises, the team has had minimal on-field success and constant off-field controversies over the past two decades under Snyder.
Snyder announced last week that he was considering selling the team and that he and his wife had hired Bank of America Securities “to consider potential trades.”
The allegations stem from a 2020 Washington Post report in which 15 former female COs employees and two reporters who covered the team accused team personnel of sexual harassment and verbal abuse.
After an investigation by attorney Beth Wilkinson, the NFL fined the team $10 million and Snyder handed control of the day-to-day operations of the franchise to his wife, Tanya Snyder.
Still, the NFL has refused to release the findings of the investigation, prompting Congress to become involved in a House Oversight Committee review. Commissioner Goodell testified before the panel in June that the culture of commanding officers has been “not only unprofessional, but toxic for far too long”.
Goodell said the team did not receive a written report from Wilkinson to maintain the confidentiality of those who participated in the internal investigation.
Lisa Banks and Debra Katz, who represent more than 40 former Commanders employees, released a statement praising the lawsuit and calling on the NFL to release the Wilkinson investigation.
“The civil complaint filed today by the DC Attorney General against Washington Commanders Dan Snyder, NFL and Commissioner Roger Goodell is further evidence of what we have long known: that Commanders and the NFL have delivered on deceptions and lies designed to cover up the team’s decades of sexual harassment and abuse, which impacted not only the victims of that abuse, but consumers in the District of Columbia as well.
“The filing of this complaint also marks an important step in validating the experiences of the brave women and men who have come forward and achieving, for the first time, a level of transparency about the extent of the misconduct. .
“For too long, the NFL has actively covered up wrongdoing by Washington commanders and shielded Mr. Snyder from accountability at every turn. The NFL must understand that sexual harassment and abuse cannot be tolerated or covered up. »
The off-field issues were also felt by the players and the team, now sitting at a disappointing 4-5 record good for last place in the NFC East.
“Since I arrived here, it’s been a dark cloud over our organization,” cornerback Benjamin St-Juste told the Journal de Québec on Saturday. “Every time something good happens on the pitch, something bad happens off the pitch. A fresh start would give us renewed energy and regain the confidence of the fans.
The commanders also faced heavy criticism for an inflammatory statement released Wednesday that used the August shooting of running back Brian Robinson Jr. to push back the trial.
Racine’s office announced Wednesday that it would hold a press conference to make a “major announcement” regarding the commanders the following day. In response, commanders released a statement referencing Robinson’s shooting and criticizing his hometown for “uncontrollable violent crime”.
“Less than three months ago, a 23-year-old player from our squad was shot multiple times, in broad daylight,” a spokesperson for the commanders said in the statement. “Despite the out-of-control violent crime in DC, today Washington commanders learned for the first time on Twitter that the DC Attorney General will be holding a press conference to ‘make a major announcement’ related to the organization tomorrow.
“It is unfortunate that in his final days in office Mr. Racine seems more interested in making splashy headlines based on offbeat legal theories than doing the hard work of making the streets safe for our citizens, including including bringing to justice the people who shot one of our players.
Robinson, a rookie running back, was shot twice in an attempted armed robbery in August. He missed the first month of the season due to injury, but has since recovered and returned to the field. Two teenagers were arrested last week in connection with the shooting.
Robinson’s agent, Ryan Williams, tweeted his displeasure with the commanders’ statement on Wednesday night.
“Until an hour ago, the COs handled Brian Robinson’s situation with such care, sincerity and class. And I was so thankful for it all,” Williams said in a tweet on Wednesday. “Although I know there are great humans in this building, whoever is behind this statement is not one of them.”
Commanders Chairman Jason Wright released another statement later Wednesday, saying the earlier statement “expressed our outside counsel’s continued frustration with the Attorney General’s office.”
“The attorneys’ legitimate frustrations with the GA should have been separate from the reference to the terrible crime that affected our player,” Wright said.
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