D.C. attorney general files lawsuit against Daniel Snyder, Washington Commanders, NFL, Roger Goodell

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WASHINGTON — D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine announced Thursday that his office is filing a consumer protection lawsuit against the Washington Commanders, owner Daniel Snyder, the NFL and the league’s commissioner, Roger Goodell.

Racine said in a news conference that his office is suing the parties for “colluding to deceive residents of the District of Columbia” with respect to the NFL’s investigation into a toxic workplace culture within the Commanders franchise.

He said the defendants effectively buried the findings of that investigation, conducted by attorney Beth Wilkinson, in an effort to maintain fan support and profit margins.

“With this lawsuit, we’re standing up for D.C. residents who were repeatedly lied to and deceived,” Racine said at the news conference. “They have a right to know the truth about the companies they support with their hard-earned dollars.”

Outside attorneys for the Commanders said in a statement that Snyder and his wife, Tanya, have long since “acknowledged that an unacceptable workplace culture had existed” and “apologized many times for allowing that to happen.” 

“We agree with AG Racine on one thing: The public needs to know the truth,” said the attorneys, John Brownlee and Stuart Nash. “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, meanwhile, said Wilkinson’s investigation was thorough and the NFL released a public summary of the findings.

“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,” McCarthy said.

The lawsuit essentially argues that the Commanders and the NFL publicly promised that the Wilkinson investigation would be both thorough and independent but was neither.

More specifically, it is alleging violations of the District’s Consumer Protection Procedures Act, which Racine said is notably broad in the protections it offers to residents. He said the law calls for a fine of up to $5,000 for “any material misstatement that a merchant or business makes” that could negatively impact D.C. residents.

For Racine, however, the reason to file the lawsuit isn’t as much about the finances as it is “public accountability.” He said his office plans to subpoena the defendants, including Snyder, and take depositions under oath.

“The depositions (are) not likely to occur on a yacht, but in a conference room in the District of Columbia,” Racine added.

Attorneys Lisa Banks and Debra Katz, who represent more than 40 former employees of the team, said the lawsuit “marks an important step in validating the experiences” of their clients.

“For far too long, the NFL has actively concealed wrongdoing by the Washington Commanders and has shielded Mr. Snyder from accountability at every turn,” they said in a statement. “The NFL must understand that sexual harassment and abuse cannot be tolerated or concealed.” 

Racine said his office could not pursue civil charges on behalf of former employees who alleged sexual harassment while working for the Commanders because the alleged incidents took place in Maryland, Virginia or another jurisdiction.

His office also does not have the authority to pursue criminal charges in this case, though former Washington employee Megan Imbert said she hopes that federal and state prosecutors will do so.

“I think this could spark that, within those that have power,” Imbert said. “So I’m hoping that, by (Racine) taking a stand and leading this, that there’s an opportunity for criminal charges down the road. We’ve been calling (for) that for years now.”

Snyder and his team have been under intense scrutiny since the summer of 2020 when more than a dozen women told The Washington Post they were sexually harassed while working for the Commanders. A league investigation followed, and the team was later fined $10 million, among a handful of other disciplinary measures.

Though the NFL acknowledged that its probe found evidence of a toxic and “highly unprofessional” culture within the Commanders, especially for women, it did not release a detailed written report of its findings – a noticeable departure from league precedent.

The absence of a public report piqued the interest of the House Oversight Committee, which opened its own investigation last year. The committee has since questioned Goodell at a public hearing and conducted depositions of Snyder and former team president Bruce Allen, among a host of others. (Snyder’s and Allen’s testimonies have not been made public.)

In the course of the probe, the Oversight Committee said it uncovered evidence that the Commanders might have concealed ticket revenue from the league, among other allegations of financial impropriety. It referred the matter to the Federal Trade Commission, as well as attorneys general in D.C., Maryland and Virginia.

When asked about the alleged financial improprieties, Racine said: “There will be more news on that next week.”

The lawsuit filed Thursday comes a little more than a week after the Snyders announced they have hired a bank to “consider potential transactions” involving the Commanders – signaling a willingness to sell all or part of the team. Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, media executive Byron Allen and real estate executive Mat Ishbia are among those interested in submitting bids, according to multiple news reports. Forbes values the franchise at $5.6 billion.

Racine said any potential change in ownership would not impact the status of the lawsuit, and he is “quite confident” that his successor, Brian Schwalb, will continue to pursue the case after he is sworn into office Jan. 2.

Contact Tom Schad at tschad@usatoday.com or on Twitter @Tom_Schad.

This content was originally published here.

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