WASHINGTON (AP) — The District of Columbia attorney general's office on Thursday filed a civil consumer protection lawsuit against the Washington Commanders, owner Dan Snyder, the NFL and Commissioner Roger Goodell, accusing them of colluding to deceive fans by lying about an investigation into the team’s workplace misconduct.
Attorney General Karl Racine announced the civil complaint at a news conference, saying Snyder, Goodell, the team and league “misled the public."
He is arguing they should be held accountable under D.C.'s Consumer Protection Procedures Act for lying about the process and results of an investigation that found Washington had a toxic workplace culture.
“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, also pointing blame at Goodell and the league.
“They did all of this to hide the truth, protect their images and let the profits continue to roll."
Racine said the team and league violated D.C. consumers’ rights based on what they knew about the organization’s workplace misconduct, alleging Snyder lied about his knowledge of the situation. While not specifying the damages he's seeking, Racine said the law provides for fines of up to $5,000 per lie.
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 U.S. House Committee for Oversight and Reform referred its case, which initially centered on workplace culture issues, to the Federal Trade Commission for potential financial improprieties.
Lawyers representing the Commanders said Dan and Tanya Snyder acknowledged an unacceptable workplace culture more than two years ago and “have apologized many times for allowing that to happen.”
“We agree with AG Racine on one thing: the public needs to know the truth,” Commanders counsel John Brownlee and Stuart Nash said in a statement. “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.”
An NFL spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The team is the subject of multiple ongoing investigations, including by the attorneys general of D.C. and Virginia, Congress and the league.
NFL spokesman Brian 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.
“We will issue subpoenas,” Racine said. “We will seek testimony under oath.”
Racine took a shot at Snyder’s virtual testimony with the House Oversight Committee by saying depositions are “not likely to occur on a yacht but in a conference room in the District of Columbia.”
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 they were “exploring all options” in regards to the organization that Forbes values at $5.6 billion. Racine said Snyder is still a defendant, even if he sells the team, because he owned it at the time of the workplace misconduct.
Racine said the lawsuit is happening in civil court because his office does not have criminal jurisdiction on the matter. He is leaving office Jan. 2 and expects successor Brian Schwalb to continue the case.
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.
The findings of Beth 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.”
Lawyers Lisa Banks and Debra Katz, who represent more than 40 former team employees, said 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.”
They added, “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.”
Former Washington employee Megan Imbert attended the news conference and said she and others have been seeking accountability and transparency and believes this is a significant step toward getting it.
“This is kind of the moment we’ve been waiting for,” Imbert said. "We’ve been through a lot even the past 2½ years and it’s been scary, but I think the law’s on our side and I’m just looking forward to what the future holds. This is the most significant day of the past 2½ years for me.”
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