Washington, D.C. Attorney General Karl A. Racine announced he's suing the Washington Commanders, team owner Dan Snyder, the NFL, and its commissioner, Roger Goodell, "for colluding to deceive District residents—the heart of the Commanders’ fanbase—about an investigation into toxic workplace culture."
"After public reporting revealed that sexual misconduct, harassment, and misogyny ran rampant for decades at the team, the defendants promised DC residents that the league was going to fix this toxic culture, including by fully cooperating with an independent investigation," Racine tweeted on Thursday (November 10). "That was all a lie.
"Instead, the NFL turned a blind eye to Snyder’s extensive efforts to silence or intimidate witnesses, and the NFL and Commanders entered into a secret agreement that gave Snyder power to veto the release of any results.
"With today’s lawsuit, we’re standing up for DC residents who were lied to and deceived. And we’re standing with the brave victims and employees of the team who told us the truth during our investigation and came forward about what they suffered and witnessed while working."
On November 2, ESPN reported that a criminal investigation into the Commanders had been launched by the U.S. attorney's office in the Eastern District of Virginia in relation to allegations that the team "engaged in financial improprieties," two sources familiar with the situation confirmed.
ESPN reported that the investigation was launched in relation to "a letter the House Committee on Oversight and Reform sent to the Federal Trade Commission and several attorneys general in April that alleged deceptive business practices."
Attorneys general in Virginia and Washington, D.C. were also reportedly looking into allegations of financial impropriety, according to the sources familiar with the situation.
A Commanders spokesperson provided a statement from attorney John Brownlee of Holland & Knight, who represents the NFL franchise, in response to ESPN's request for comment at the time.
"It is not surprising that ESPN is publishing more falsehoods based solely on anonymous sources -- given today's announcement," the statement said via ESPN. "...We are confident that, after these agencies have had a chance to review the documents and complete their work, they will come to the same conclusion as the team's internal review -- that these allegations are simply untrue."
NFL spokesperson Brian McCarthy said the league "will decline comment" when asked if the NFL was aware of the federal criminal investigation.
"The NFL in April engaged former SEC chair Mary Jo White to look into this matter," McCarthy said. "The review is ongoing."
White is leading the league's previous investigation into the Commanders regarding allegations of sexual misconduct under team owner Dan Snyder, who is also accused of an alleged sexual assault of a woman on his plane in April 2009.
ESPN's report comes hours after Snyder and his wife, Tanya, announced they've hired Bank of America Securities to consider "potential transactions" in relation to the Washington Commanders NFL franchise.
"Dan and Tanya Snyder and the Washington Commanders announced today that they have hired BoA Securities to consider potential transactions," the Commanders said in a statement re-shared by CBS Sports NFL Insider Jonathan Jones on Wednesday (November 2). "The Snyders remain committed to the team, all of its employees and its countless fans to putting the best product on the field and continuing the work to set the gold standard for workplaces in the NFL.
The statement came weeks after Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay said "there's merit to remove" Snyder as owner of the Commanders during the 2022 Fall NFL Meeting on October 18, making him the first NFL team owner to publicly call for Snyder's removal, Front Office Sports' A.J. Perez reported at the time.
"I'm very concerned that he needs to be removed," Irsay said via NFL Network's Tom Pelissero.
"Some of the things I’ve heard doesn’t represent us at all," Irsay said via ESPN's Jeremy Fowler. "I want the American public to know what we’re about as owners…I believe it’s in the best interest of the National Football League that we look at this squarely in the eyes and deal with it.”
In June, the Washington Post reported on a 29-page memo released by Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform regarding Snyder, which stemmed from an investigation into the franchise's alleged toxic workplace culture and revealed that the owner launched a "shadow investigation" into his accusers, which included a "100-slide dossier with emails, text messages, telephone records, and social media posts from journalists, victims, and witnesses who had made credible public accusations of harassment against the Commanders."
The Commanders were fined $10 million as a result of the NFL's investigation into the franchise's workplace culture in July.
NFL.com confirmed the fine "will be used to support organizations committed to character education, anti-bullying, healthy relationships and related topics."
Additionally, Tanya Snyder was promoted to co-CEO earlier this year and has overseen the franchise's day-to-day duties, as well as represented the franchise at league functions, amid her husband turning his focus "on a new stadium plan and other matters," NFL.com reported at the time.
Snyder wasn't seen publicly around the team for months prior to resurfacing during Washington's matchup against the Cowboys in Arlington on October 2.
Attorney Beth Wilkinson began an independent investigation into the then-Washington Football Team in July 2020 amid numerous accusations of sexual harassment by former employees during a 15-year span detailed in a column by the Washington Post.
In April 2021, Front Office Sports reported that the investigation examined former team employees and email accounts, which revealed "a toxic work environment and contain troubling exchanges, including nude photos and other inappropriate correspondence," a source with knowledge of the probe confirmed.
A specific exchange included Donald Wells, the franchise's first openly gay employee who previously directed the WFT's cheerleading squad for 12 years, who has publicly lobbied for Dan Snyder to be held accountable for years of workplace harassment that existed within the organization.
“They took advantage of (the cheerleaders) and did things to other people in the office, including me,” Wells told Front Office Sports. “What went on there was way worse than that (email). My gosh.”
However, the email exchange showed that Wells was implicit of that behavior.
“She is a fat cross-eyed, crazy chick,” Wells wrote from his WFT email account in September of 2007 after a member of the cheerleading team put in her notice via FOS. “… I am sure she will enjoy taking trashy pictures while she eats her big macs :).”
Wells said he didn't recall sending the email mentioned in FOS' report.
In March 2021, the NFL approved Snyder's application to buy out the franchise's minority owners.
Snyder's $450 million debt waiver was approved by the league's finance committee, an NFL spokesperson confirmed to ESPN on March 24, 2021, which was initially reported by Tyler Dunne of GoLongTD.com. The rest of the league's majority owners will vote during the NFL's annual meeting next week on whether to approve the deal, with Snyder needing approval from 24 of the 32 owners for the transaction to pass.
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