DC Attorney General sues Washington Commanders, owner Dan Snyder and NFL for deceiving residents
By Jessica Schneider, Eric Levenson, David Close and Jacob Lev, CNN
(CNN) -- DC Attorney General Karl Racine announced a lawsuit against embattled Washington Commanders owner Dan Snyder, the team and the NFL on Thursday, alleging they colluded to deceive DC residents about an NFL investigation into the team's toxic workplace culture and allegations of sexual assault.
"For years the team and its owner have caused very real and very serious harm and then lied about it to dodge accountability and to continue to rake in profits," Racine said Thursday. "So far they seem to have gotten away with it, but that stops today."
The lawsuit alleges those deceptive efforts aimed to keep fans in the dark and increase profits for the team. 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 accountable for misleading customers.
The AG's investigation began last fall and found that Snyder lied to DC residents when he denied knowing anything about allegations of a hostile work environment and culture of sexual harassment within the team, according to Racine.
"In fact, the evidence shows Snyder was not only aware of the toxic culture within his organization, he encouraged it and he participated in it," Racine said. "Mr. Snyder exerted a high level of personal control over everything the Commanders did and his misconduct gave others permission to treat women in the same demeaning manner."
The NFL and Commanders launched what they billed as an independent investigation into the allegations, but they secretly entered into an agreement to give Snyder power over what could be shared with the public, the lawsuit alleges. At the same time, Snyder and the team tried to interfere with and obstruct the investigation, the lawsuit states.
Ultimately, the NFL released a short press release summarizing the investigation's findings but said that they did not receive a written investigative report due to confidentiality concerns, the lawsuit states.
"Does any part of this investigation sound independent? Does any of this sound like accountability?" Racine said. "Of course not. That's why we're suing."
Racine is now seeking unspecified financial penalties for every incident in which the parties lied to residents dating back to July 2020. The Attorney General said the penalties could run into the millions of dollars. The lawsuit also seeks a court order forcing the NFL to release all findings from its 10-month investigation into the Commanders' workplace culture.
Commanders counsel John Brownlee and Stuart Nash issued a joint statement in response to the lawsuit.
"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," they said. "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 vice president of communications Brian McCarthy rejected the allegations as baseless.
"The independent investigation into workplace misconduct at the Washington Commanders was thoroughly and comprehensively conducted by Beth Wilkinson and her law firm. Following the completion of the investigation, the NFL made public a summary of Ms. Wilkinson's findings and imposed a record-setting fine against the club and its ownership," he said.
"We reject the legally unsound and factually baseless allegations made today by the DC Attorney General against the NFL and Commissioner Goodell and will vigorously defend against those claims."
The announcement is just the latest issue for the Commanders, the newly branded team mired in several major investigations. Once one of the NFL's premiere franchises, the team has had minimal success on the field and consistent controversies off the field over the last two decades under Snyder.
Snyder announced last week that he is considering a sale of the team and that he and his wife hired Bank of America Securities "to consider potential transactions."
How the investigation began
The allegations stem from a Washington Post report in 2020 in which 15 female former Commanders employees and two journalists who covered the team accused team staffers of sexual harassment and verbal abuse.
After an investigation by attorney Beth Wilkinson, the NFL fined the team $10 million, and Snyder handed control over the franchise's daily operations to his wife, Tanya Snyder.
Yet the NFL declined to publicly release the findings of the investigation, sparking Congress to get involved with a House Oversight Committee review. Commissioner Goodell testified before the panel in June that the Commanders' culture was "not only unprofessional, but toxic for far too long."
Goodell said that the team had not received a written report from Wilkinson in order to preserve the confidentiality of those who had participated in the internal investigation.
Lisa Banks and Debra Katz, who represent over 40 former Commanders employees, released a statement praising the suit and calling on the NFL to release the Wilkinson investigation.
"Today's civil complaint filed by the DC Attorney General against the Washington Commanders, Dan Snyder, the NFL, and Commissioner Roger Goodell 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.
"The filing of this complaint also marks an important step in validating 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.
"For far too long, the NFL has actively concealed wrongdoing by the Washington Commanders and has shielded Mr. Snyder from accountability at every turn. The NFL must understand that sexual harassment and abuse cannot be tolerated or concealed."
The off-field issues have also been 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," Commanders cornerback Benjamin St-Juste told Journal de Québec on Saturday. "Every time something good happens on the field, something bad happens off the field. A fresh start would give us a renewed energy and would win back the fans' trust."
Franchise uses running back's shooting to make political point
The Commanders also faced sharp criticism for an inflammatory statement posted Wednesday that used the August shooting of running back Brian Robinson Jr. to push back against the lawsuit.
Racine's office announced Wednesday he would hold a press conference to make a "major announcement" related to the Commanders the next day. In response, the Commanders issued a statement that referenced Robinson's shooting and criticized its hometown city for "out-of-control violent crime."
"Less than three months ago, a 23-year-old player on our team was shot multiple times, in broad daylight," a Commanders spokesperson said in the statement. "Despite the out-of-control violent crime in DC, today the 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 appears more interested in making splashy headlines, based on offbeat legal theories, rather than doing the hard work of making the streets safe for our citizens, 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 the injuries but has since recovered and returned to the field. Two teens were arrested last week in connection with the shooting.
Robinson's agent Ryan Williams tweeted his displeasure with the Commanders' statement on Wednesday night.
"Up until an hour ago, the Commanders handled the Brian Robinson situation with so much care, sincerity and class. And I was so grateful for all of it," Williams said in a tweet Wednesday. "Although I know that there are some great humans in that building, whoever is hiding behind this statement is not one of them."
Commanders president Jason Wright issued another statement later on Wednesday, saying the earlier statement "expressed our external counsel's ongoing frustration with the Attorney General's office."
"The lawyers' legitimate frustrations with the AG should have been separate and apart from referencing the terrible crime that affected our player," Wright said.
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