So why did the Panthers launch an investigation regarding workplace misconduct by team owner Jerry Richardson? Because the Panthers found out that someone else already was.
That someone was Sports Illustrated, and the SI story has landed, with L. Jon Wertheim and Viv Bernstein authoring a lengthy item with plenty of details about the situation.
Per the report, SI became aware of at least four former team employees “who have received significant settlements” from Richardson. The settlements came in exchange for what SI ominously calls a “vow of silence,” but a confidentiality provision has become an extremely common term in civil settlements.
The settlements were, per the report, for “sexual harassment against female employees and for directing a racial slur at an African-American employee.” And the “playbook” mentioned in the article of non-disclosure and non-disparagement agreements in exchange for cash is hardly unique to Richardson; no competent lawyer would allow money to change hands to resolve claims of this nature without the inclusions of terms like that in the official paperwork.
Regardless, the non-disclosure terms are now being breached, and it could be that there were enough settlements that the Panthers won’t be able to figure out who’s violating the agreement.
The article contains plenty of details regarding the alleged misbehavior, from comments made to female employees on Jeans Day to a “seatbelt maneuver” (which sounds a lot like Frank Costanza’s favorite move) to requesting to shave the legs of female employees to seeking foot massages to giving back rubs that sometimes strayed too far down the spine.
“No one ever said anything, at least not that I heard,” one former Panthers employee told SI. “He was the boss. It was [viewed] more of a creepy-old-man thing than a threat.”
The racial component is, so far, isolated to one employee — a former scout who left the team earlier this year and received a settlement. Per the report, Richardson directed a racial slur at the scout.
The fact that the Panthers would need to investigate the situation now seems even more odd, given that the Panthers presumably knew about these settlements. Surely, the paperwork signed by the potential plaintiffs contained language broad enough to prevent lawsuits not only against Richardson but also against the team. Even more surely, Panthers attorneys knew about the settled claims.