[Editor’s note: On Thursday, lawyers Lisa Banks and Debra Katz sent a letter to Commissioner Roger Goodell regarding the current allegations of sexual harassment against the Washington Football Team. The full text of the letter, as posted on Twitter, appears below.]
We represent over 12 former employees of the Washington Football Team who worked in different roles during different periods of time, but all of whom share a similar experience: they — and the many more who have contacted us in the last two days — were each subjected to sexism, sexual harassment and abuse at the highest levels of the organization, including by owner Daniel Snyder. We are writing on behalf of our clients to request that you take immediate action against Mr. Snyder and the Washington Football Team, whose misconduct has long been known by the league, its fans and the public at large, but who for decades has escaped accountability.
Yesterday, in response to a second painstakingly reported article in The Washington Post detailing Mr. Snyder’s two decades-long reign over an abusive and sexually hostile work environment, you issued a statement ‘strongly condemning the unprofessional, disturbing and abhorrent behavior and workplace environment alleged in the report which is entirely inconsistent with our standards and has no place in the NFL.’ You then cite to an ‘independent’ investigation being conducted by a law firm that Mr. Snyder’s Washington Football Team, not the National Football league, has hand-picked to investigate these issues. This statement and the action that you are touting — simply monitoring the progress of the team’s investigation — is too little and too late. It does not reflect the seriousness of the allegations, which we now know include the production of a highly sexualized and exploitative video that could lead to civil or criminal liability for those responsible.
Daniel Snyder has been permitted to lead an organization that has been permeated with misogyny, sexual harassment and routine abuse of female employees with impunity. Indeed, the organization’s ‘disturbing and abhorrent behavior’ to which you refer has been carried out in plain view for more than two decades. To date, 42 women have courageously spoken out about experiencing severe mistreatment while employed with the Washington Football Team. There are likely hundreds more over the span of Mr. Snyder’s 21 years as an NFL owner. The most recent allegations point directly to Mr. Snyder as condoning, if not spearheading, the misogyny, objectification, and abuse that is deeply engrained in the culture and indeed woven into the very fabric of the Washington Football Team. This includes the surreptitious creation and likely dissemination of videos that sexually exploit and demean female employees, which potentially constitutes a sex crime under Virginia law.
Not only is the behavior that is carefully detailed in the two Washington Post articles a violation of various federal and state laws, it also clearly constitutes ‘conduct detrimental to the welfare of the League or professional football,’ see NFL Constitution and Bylaws § 8.13, and ‘undermines or puts at risk the integrity and reputation of the NFL, NFL clubs, or NFL players.’ See NFL Code of Conduct.
For this reason, we call on the NFL to immediately initiate it own independent investigation of the Washington Football Team, and suspend Daniel Snyder pending the outcome of that investigation. Our clients would gladly participate in such an NFL investigation, but do not feel safe speaking to investigators hired by Mr. Snyder and do not trust the investigation that is currently underway. Indeed, our clients live in fear of further retaliation by Mr. Snyder, as he has repeatedly demonstrated his propensity to weaponize the legal system to punish accusers and intimidate others from coming forward, most recently by filing a frivolous document in federal court that impugned the character of one of our clients. His lawsuit, based entirely on demonstrable lies and innuendo that negatively impacted her reputation, should also be the subject of investigation by the NFL.
Most importantly, we call on the NFL to commit publicly to taking actions towards removing Mr. Snyder as the majority owner of the Washington Football Team if the investigation substantiates the accounts detailed by The Washington Post. The time is long overdue for the NFL to police this type of behavior and to act decisively to penalize those in its ranks, like Daniel Snyder, who allow women to be repeatedly exploited and mistreated as a prerogative of being a rich and powerful NFL team owner.
The NFL has a responsibility to ensure that its owners maintain a safe working environment for all employees, and that includes women. At a nationally televised news conference following revelations of domestic violence by NFL players, you boldly announced that the NFL was changing its personal conduct policy and stated, ‘We will get our house in order first.’ As long as an NFL owner mistreats, and allows others to mistreat, his female employees, your house is not in order. You now have the power to change that. The Washington Football Team’s ‘abhorrent’ work environment may have been an open secret for decades, but that secret is out. As the public looks to the NFL to see how it will respond, the NFL must not simply issue reassuring public statements, and allow a serial abuser like Dan Snyder to continue to lead this team. If the league values women, its product, and its fans, it must send a clear message that it will not tolerate this pervasive sexual harassment and exploitation. Words alone are not enough. If the NFL doesn’t stand up now, it never will.
Lastly, we urge the NFL to require the Washington Football Team to release employees from onerous non-disclosure agreements that put them at legal peril, and to direct Mr. Snyder to refrain from taking legal action against those who have come forward. Currently, many dozens of former employees face the potential of being sued by Mr. Snyder if they have spoken out, or which to speak out, about the ‘abhorrent’ practices to which they were subjected while employed by his organization and in some cases by Mr. Snyder himself. The NFL should not abide practices that allow employees to be muzzled, unable to detail the longstanding abuse by this organization. Without full transparency there cannot be accountability.
We look forward to working with you to bring an end to this abuse, and to ensure that the NFL is a safe work environment for all employees.