Investigation Reveals Troubling Scope of Harassment and Misconduct at the Team, and NFL and Commanders’ Leadership Attempts to Cover It Up
Washington, D.C. (December 8, 2022)— Today, Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney, Chairwoman of the Committee on Oversight and Reform, and Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi, Chairman of the Subcommittee on Economic and Consumer Policy, released a staff report entitled, Conduct Detrimental: How the NFL and Washington Commanders Covered Up Decades of Sexual Misconduct. The report presents the Committee’s findings from its year-long investigation into the Washington Commanders’ (Commanders) decades-long toxic workplace culture, the National Football League’s (NFL) handling of the investigation into this matter, and the NFL’s role and record in setting and enforcing workplace standards across the League.
The Committee’s investigation shows that sexual harassment, bullying, and other toxic conduct pervaded the Commanders workplace, perpetuated by a culture of fear instilled by the Team’s owner. Despite the NFL’s knowledge, through its internal investigation, that the Team’s owner permitted and participated in the workplace misconduct, and engaged in tactics used to intimidate, surveil, and pay off victims, the NFL aligned its legal interests with the Commanders, failed to curtail these abusive tactics, and buried the investigation’s findings.
“Today’s report reflects the damning findings of the Committee’s year-long investigation and shows how one of the most powerful organizations in America, the NFL, mishandled pervasive sexual harassment and misconduct at the Washington Commanders,” said Chairwoman Maloney. “Our report tells the story of a team rife with sexual harassment and misconduct, a billionaire owner intent on deflecting blame, and an influential organization that chose to cover this up rather than seek accountability and stand up for employees. To powerful industries across the country, this report should serve as a wake-up call that the time of covering up misconduct to protect powerful executives is over. To my congressional colleagues, I hope this report is a call to action to protect workers across the country from harassment and intimidation, including by passing the legislation I introduced in June, the Accountability for Workplace Misconduct Act and Professional Images Protection Act.”
“The Committee’s report is the product of a comprehensive investigation during which we peeled back layers of misconduct, blame-shifting, and obstruction,” said Subcommittee Chairman Krishnamoorthi. “Beyond the evidence of egregious misconduct at the Commanders with little regard for victims, our report reveals the extreme lengths to which a single owner went to cover up wrongdoing. From sending private investigators to the homes of critics even after the NFL told him to stop, to offering hush money payments to former employees, the evidence is clear: Mr. Snyder engaged in conduct detrimental — to the Commanders organization, to the NFL, and to all the victims of his toxic workplace. And then he dodged accountability, claiming over 100 times, when he finally did sit for a deposition, that he did not know or could not recall basic facts about his role as owner of the Commanders. The time to throw a flag on this play is long past due. The NFL allowed Mr. Snyder to choose his own punishment, so Congress must act to protect workers, because the conduct that took place in the Commanders’ organization is not acceptable — not in the NFL, and not in any workplace.”
The Committee’s investigation has uncovered the following information:
- For more than two decades, employees at the Commanders were subjected to a deeply entrenched toxic work culture under the leadership of Team owner Daniel Snyder. Mr. Snyder, who purchased the team in 1999, permitted and participated in this troubling conduct.
- The Committee’s February 3, 2022, roundtable revealed allegations that Mr. Snyder inappropriately touched former employee Tiffani Johnston at a work dinner and attempted to “aggressively push” her into his limousine until he was stopped by onlookers.
- Brad Baker, a former video production employee, described how Team executives “tasked us with producing a video for Snyder of sexually suggestive footage of cheerleaders, obviously unbeknownst to any of the women involved.”
- Melanie Coburn, a former cheerleader and marketing employee, stated: “At cheerleader auditions one year, Mr. Snyder ordered the director of the squad to parade the ladies onto the field while he and his friends gawked from his suite through binoculars.”
- Dave Pauken, the Team’s former Chief Operating Officer, testified, “There wasn’t a year that went by where Dan didn’t push me to allow Dennis Greene or other people in the sales and marketing staff to allow sponsors or other paying guests to attend a calendar shoot,” indicating that the Team’s owner personally encouraged the exploitative practice previously exposed by the New York Times.
- Bruce Allen, the Commanders former President testified that, “from time to time,” Mr. Snyder would warn him: “I want to know everything. Don’t let me find out about it.”
- In his Committee deposition, Mr. Snyder purported to “apologize for any workplace misconduct of the team,” but he blamed others around him and minimized the experiences of more than 100 current and former Commanders employees who had spoken up about the Team’s toxic culture, claiming their stories were “possibly” orchestrated by a former employee with a “negative agenda” whom Mr. Snyder had accused of trying to bribe his personal staff.
- Commanders’ leadership perpetuated a toxic workplace culture by ignoring and downplaying sexual misconduct by senior male Commanders employees.
- Mr. Pauken testified: “There was a [female] member of the public relations staff that was groped by a member of the coaching staff at an event.” He described how he “talked to Dan about it, and I knew what we were going to do and—which was nothing. And we told the person to just stay away from the coach, we would do our best to keep the coach away from you, but stay away from the coach.”
- Brian Lafemina, the Commanders’ former President of Business Operations and Chief Operating Officer, testified that he informed Mr. Snyder that an employee “had come to him to let him know that she had felt uncomfortable over a period of time with her interactions with senior executive Larry Michael, the fact that he had commented about her appearance in public at events where he was the emcee and she was working the event, and that at times he had touched her on the cheeks and kissed her on the forehead.” According to Mr. Lafemina, Mr. Snyder responded that “Larry was a sweetheart and that Larry wouldn’t hurt anybody.”
- Mr. Snyder interfered with the Wilkinson Investigation by launching a shadow investigation into suspected sources of the Washington Post exposés, attempting to block Ms. Wilkinson’s access to information, and trying to silence employees who could implicate him in misconduct.
- The Committee found that Mr. Snyder abused the subpoena power of federal courts on at least ten separate occasions by filing a defamation lawsuit against an obscure media company in India in order to obtain private emails and communications from his perceived detractors in the United States, including former employees who spoke out about sexual misconduct at the Commanders.
- In his Committee deposition, Mr. Snyder testified that his shadow investigation had “[n]othing to do with the workplace investigation” and instead “had to do with the fact that we were defamed” on a website based in India. However, this testimony appears to be misleading at best. The Committee uncovered evidence that Mr. Snyder and his lawyers made at least seven presentations to the NFL and Ms. Wilkinson aimed at convincing the League that Mr. Snyder was the victim of a smear campaign related to misconduct allegations and that others were to blame for his Team’s toxic workplace. Mr. Snyder and his attorneys made only a single presentation to former Attorney General Loretta Lynch, who had been hired by the NFL to review claims made by Mr. Snyder against his former minority owners. That presentation “covered some of the same subject matter presented to the Wilkinson firm.”
- Mr. Snyder claimed in his deposition that a 100-page dossier created by his lawyers was “solely” related to his defamation lawsuit in India and had “nothing” to do with the Wilkinson Investigation into the Commanders’ workplace. However, the Committee confirmed that Mr. Snyder’s lawyers shared this dossier with Ms. Wilkinson’s firm and that the dossier itself is closely related to the facts underlying the Wilkinson Investigation. Dozens of slides discuss the journalists who wrote the Washington Post exposés on the Team’s toxic workplace and the victims identified in the articles, who Mr. Snyder called the “Accusers” in the dossier.
- Throughout the Wilkinson Investigation, Mr. Snyder sent private investigators to the homes of former employees. Mr. Allen testified in a Committee deposition that around March 2021, Mr. Snyder sent private investigators to his home in Arizona. The investigators told Mr. Allen that they were “just here to follow you” and “document your actions.” Mr. Allen testified that Mr. Snyder commented on his plans to use of private investigators to follow other individuals, including Commissioner Roger Goodell.
- Mr. Snyder used former Commanders General Counsel Dave Donovan as a proxy to sue Ms. Wilkinson in federal court to block her from accessing or disclosing information related to a 2009 sexual assault allegation, including a $1.6 million confidential settlement. Documents show that Ms. Wilkinson accused the Commanders of intervening “in the Donovan litigation and launch[ing] a series of attacks against Ms. Wilkinson.”
- Mr. Snyder offered hush money to silence several former employees during the Wilkinson Investigation. New evidence shows that in February 2021, lawyers for Mr. Snyder “offered financial compensation” to former employees “who did not have live legal claims, but who had been vocal in their criticisms of the Team in order to secure additional non-disclosure agreements and keep them from talking further.”
- In addition to failing to appear at a public hearing, Mr. Snyder interfered with the Committee’s investigation by intimidating witnesses and blocking the production of documents.
- Contrary to claims by Mr. Snyder’s counsel that Mr. Snyder “never prevented” former cheerleader Abigail Dymond Welch “from sharing information with the Committee,” Mr. Snyder refused to release Ms. Welch and other witnesses from their non-disclosure agreements to facilitate their full and complete testimony before the Committee.
- On the eve of Mr. Allen’s deposition, lawyers for Mr. Snyder sent the Committee a batch of internal emails containing inappropriate content from Mr. Allen’s Commanders email account so “that Mr. Allen will have an opportunity to review them prior to his deposition.” The emails included those that had been leaked to the Wall Street Journal and New York Times in October 2021.
- Mr. Snyder used a secret common interest agreement with the NFL to prevent the League from turning over more than 40,000 documents from the Wilkinson investigative file to the Committee, including the Wilkinson Investigation findings, several PowerPoint presentations that Mr. Snyder made to the NFL and Ms. Wilkinson during the Wilkinson Investigation, a 2018 human resources audit report showing deficiencies in the Commanders’ human resources department, a 2009 confidential settlement that resolved sexual assault allegations against Mr. Snyder, and 2008 and 2010 videos of outtakes from cheerleader photoshoots.
- The NFL was aware of Mr. Snyder’s serious interference with the Wilkinson Investigation but failed to take adequate action to prevent it.
- New evidence uncovered by the Committee shows that the NFL was repeatedly notified that Mr. Snyder continued to use private investigators even after the League instructed him to stop “investigating any of these matters” in August 2020. In September 2020 an attorney representing Brad Baker informed the NFL that private investigators had contacted her client’s friends and family members, and in April 2021, Bruce Allen notified the NFL that Mr. Snyder had sent private investigators to his home.
- A senior NFL counsel admitted in a private communication with Mr. Allen more than a year ago that Mr. Snyder’s shadow investigation and abuse of federal courts violated NFL policy. Mr. Allen testified that around April 2021, he notified NFL’s counsel that Mr. Snyder had used emails from his Commanders email account in a federal court action. In response, Mr. Allen recalled, the NFL attorney acknowledged that Mr. Snyder’s action was “conduct detrimental” to the integrity of the League.
- The NFL misled the public about its handling of the Wilkinson Investigation and continues to minimize workplace misconduct across the League, highlighting the need for Congress to act.
- New evidence uncovered by the Committee shows that key aspects of the NFL’s resolution following the Wilkinson Investigation was negotiated with the Mr. Snyder’s lawyers, including the language in the NFL’s July 2021 announcement, the $10 million penalty levied against the Commanders, and the recommendations for the Team to implement.
- Although the NFL claimed that it refused to release written findings to “better preserve” the anonymity of witnesses and the confidentiality of investigative information, in 2014, the NFL authorized the full release of a 144-page report reflecting the findings of an investigation into allegations of harassment and bullying by Miami Dolphins football players “without any redactions or modifications” due to the “extraordinary public interest” in the matter. The investigators in the 2014 matter displayed “sensitivity to issues of privacy and requests for confidentiality” by anonymizing witness names and withholding certain details from publication.
- Despite the NFL’s September 2020 engagement with the Wilkinson law firm to “complete a written report of its findings,” Commissioner Goodell testified at the Committee’s June 2022 hearing that he abandoned this plan and decided to receive an oral, rather than written, briefing of the Wilkinson findings in October 2020. Ms. Wilkinson, however, stated in recent litigation related to allegations of sexual misconduct against Mr. Snyder: “The public’s interest is to know the truth—one way or another—about the matters at issue in this lawsuit.”
Click here to read the Committee’s report.
Click here to read the transcript of Mr. Snyder’s deposition.
Click here to read the transcript of Mr. Allen’s deposition.