WASHINGTON — District of Columbia Attorney General Karl Racine filed a consumer protection lawsuit against the Washington Commanders, owner Dan Snyder, the NFL, and Commissioner Roger Goodell.
Racine said at a news conference Thursday that the lawsuit focuses on Snyder’s alleged involvement in the Commanders’ toxic workplace and attempts by the Commanders, Snyder, and the NFL to cover it up — all of which harmed residents of D.C.
“The evidence shows Mr. 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 lawsuit, filed Thursday in Superior Court for the District of Columbia, seeks unspecified civil penalties and monetary damages. Racine referenced a similar consumer protection lawsuit that was recently settled for $10 million.
The Commanders are headquartered in Virginia and play home games in Maryland. The D.C. AG is using D.C. consumer protection laws that apply to those doing business with residents, along with the links to the city — including “Washington” in the team name — to establish jurisdiction.
The complaint comes a week after Snyder announced he was exploring options that include selling the franchise. Racine said that Snyder would be held to account even if does sell the team, and the lawsuit will also continue after AG-elect Brian Schwalb takes over in January.
“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,” outside Commanders attorneys John Brownlee and Stuart Nash said in a statement. “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.”
The NFL had knowledge of the investigation and had provided more than a million pages of documents.
“The independent investigation into workplace misconduct at the Washington Commanders was thoroughly and comprehensively conducted by Beth Wilkinson and her law firm,” NFL spokesperson Brian McCarthy said in a statement to FOS. “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.
“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 lawsuit laid out several allegations:
- The complaint alleged Snyder “cultivated an environment within the team that glorifies sexual harassment and punishes victims for speaking out.”
- Minus a functional human resources department, “cheerleaders and female employees were exploited and harassed. Some male employees were bullied into participating in this hyper-masculine culture.”
- Snyder “regularly told people to keep the cheerleaders ‘skinny with big [breasts].'”
- Commanders executives snuck “photographs of cheerleaders in compromising situations during the shoot and [sent] the pictures to Snyder” — footage the lawsuit alleged “was often taken without the cheerleaders’ awareness or consent.”
- The defendants worked to hinder the first independent investigation into the team led by former assistant U.S. Attorney Beth Wilkinson.
“Snyder and the Commanders misled the public about what was being done to address the allegations of harassment and the toxic culture that the Commanders maintained,” Racine said. “They did all of this to hide the truth, protect their images, and to let the prophets continue to roll in.”
The DC AG’s office plans to depose Snyder and others as well, issuing subpoenas for information related to the Wilkinson investigation.
Two of the former employees sat to the right of Racine during the news conference: Melanie Coburn and Megan Imbert.
“This is what we’ve been shouting from the rooftops since this all started is seeking transparency and accountability,” Coburn, a former Commanders cheerleader and marketing director of the squad, told Front Office Sports.
Added Imbert: “To me, this is the most significant day over the last two-and-a-half years.”
The House Oversight Committee is expected to release its final findings from its probe that is also focused on hostile workplace allegations in the coming weeks. A second outside NFL investigation — one led by former SEC chief Mary Jo White — is also pending.
Racine’s office was among three attorneys general — including Virginia and Maryland — that launched investigations into the Commanders after they were sent copies of a letter from the House Oversight Committee related to the Federal Trade Commission in April.
But Racine said his office’s investigation began before that letter was sent and the lawsuit isn’t focused on alleged financial improprieties. But Racine said that his office’s inquiry in the financial misconduct isn’t closed.
“There’ll be more news on that next week,” he said.