WASHINGTON — The attorney general for Washington has filed a civil lawsuit against the Washington Commanders, team owner Daniel Snyder, the National Football League and commissioner Roger Goodell for allegedly colluding to deceive fans and district residents about the league’s investigation into the team’s toxic workplace culture and allegations of sexual assault in an effort to maintain a strong fan base and to increase profits.
Attorney General Karl Racine (D-D.C.) said his office was suing “because you can’t lie to D.C. residents in order to protect your image and profits and get away with it. No matter who you are.” Racine then added, “Even if you’re the National Football League.”
Racine said his office opened its investigation last fall and plans to subpoena Snyder as well as former employees, promising accountability and transparency as the case moves through the court system.
“We will issue subpoenas,” Racine said. “We will seek testimony under oath.”
Racine took a shot at Snyder’s virtual deposition with the U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Reform by saying depositions are “not likely to occur on a yacht but in a conference room in the District of Columbia.”
Racine alleged that while the league and the team publicly promised an independent investigation, “Snyder waged an interference campaign to cover up years of harassment” and that “the NFL let him do it, betraying fans’ trust by enabling Snyder to have a say at the end of the investigation into him and the Commanders.”
Racine said his office has jurisdiction to sue because the District of Columbia’s consumer-protection law is broad and covers any material misstatement that a business or merchant makes that could affect consumers in the district. He said the district is filing a civil complaint because his office does not have criminal jurisdiction on the matter.
“For years, the team and its owner have caused very real and very serious harm and then lied about it to dodge accountability,” Racine said. “They did all of this to hide the truth, protect their images and let the profits continue to roll.”
While not specifying the damages he’s seeking, Racine said the law provides for fines of up to $5,000 per lie.
Attorneys from the D.C. attorney general’s office said Thursday that they’ve interviewed about a dozen witnesses so far.
Racine is leaving office in January but said he believes his successor Brian Schwalb, also a Democrat, will continue the investigation. He also said if the Snyders decide to sell the team, the investigation would continue because the allegations occurred when Snyder was owner.
Four posters flanked Racine during his announcement, outlining some of the history of the team’s rebranding efforts that included references to D.C. and its flag and the history of the NFL’s investigation into the organization’s workplace culture.
“Dan Snyder assured fans that he would fully cooperate with the investigation and the results could be trusted,” one of the posters read. “That was a lie: He repeatedly attempted to interfere, and the fans could not trust results that were never made public. Because Snyder had a veto.”
Snyder and the Commanders have been under investigation for the past two years by multiple government agencies relating to allegations of a toxic workplace culture and sexual harassment under Snyder’s ownership, including an investigation by the House Oversight Committee after the NFL did not release the findings of a report compiled by lawyer Beth Wilkinson, which Racine characterized as “a so-called independent investigation.”
The findings of Wilkinson’s investigation were not released in July 2021, when the league fined the team $10 million for having a toxic workplace culture. The final poster read: “Fans’ outrage intensified when it became clear that Snyder lied to them: There would be no transparency and no reckoning. That impacted consumer spending decisions.”
Attorneys for the D.C. attorney general’s office said Thursday they have not spoken to Wilkinson.
Asked about a parallel review into the team’s finances and withholding money from season-ticket holders, Racine said, “There’ll be more news on that next week.”
Racine’s office launched an investigation into the team around the time the House Oversight Committee referred its case, which initially centered on workplace-culture issues, to the Federal Trade Commission for potential financial improprieties.
Lisa Banks and Debra Katz, lawyers who have been representing more than 40 former employees who have made allegations against the franchise, said in a statement that the civil complaint “is further evidence of what we’ve long known: that both the Commanders and the NFL have engaged in deception and lies designed to conceal the team’s decades of sexual harassment and abuse, which has impacted not only the victims of that abuse, but also consumers in the District of Columbia” and validates “the experiences of the brave women and men who came forward and in achieving, for the first time, a level of transparency into the scope of the misconduct.”
Responding to the lawsuit, Commanders counsel John Brownlee and Stuart Nash said in a statement, “Over two years ago, Dan and Tanya Snyder acknowledged that an unacceptable workplace culture had existed within their organization for several years and they have apologized many times for allowing that to happen. We agree with AG Racine on one thing: the public needs to know the truth. Although the lawsuit repeats a lot of innuendo, half-truths and lies, we welcome this opportunity to defend the organization — for the first time — in a court of law and to establish, once and for all, what is fact and what is fiction.”
NFL spokesperson Brian McCarthy said in a statement that, “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.”
The NFL, however, has been cooperating with the D.C. attorney general’s office and has sent it more than 1.6 million pages of documents, a source told ESPN’s John Keim.
The team is being investigated on several fronts, including by the attorneys general of D.C. and Virginia, Congress and the league. McCarthy last week said former U.S. Attorney Mary Jo White’s review on behalf of the league is ongoing and there is no timetable for when it will be completed.
The Snyders announced last week they hired Bank of America Securities to look into selling part or all of the team. A team spokesperson said it was “exploring all options” in regard to the organization that Forbes values at $5.6 billion.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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