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Dozens of Washington Commanders employees hurt by ‘toxic work culture,' team owner intimidated witnesses, House Oversight Committee finds

The committee's report determined sexual harassment and bullying were part of the team's work environment.
A Washington Commanders helmet on Aug. 13, 2022, in Landover, Md.
A Washington Commanders helmet in Landover, Md., on Aug. 13.Nick Wass / AP file

Dozens of employees of the Washington Commanders were harmed for more than two decades because of a “toxic work culture," according to a scathing report released Thursday by the House Oversight and Reform Committee, which also found team owner Daniel Snyder intimidated cooperative witnesses.

The title of the report is “Conduct Detrimental: How the NFL and the Washington Commanders Covered Up Decades of Sexual Misconduct.”

“The results of the Committee’s investigation, as laid out in this report, are clear: sexual harassment, bullying, and other toxic conduct pervaded the workplace at the Washington Commanders and were perpetuated by a culture of fear instilled by the Team’s owner," the report said.

The report mentions attorney Beth Wilkinson, whom Snyder initially commissioned to investigate the team’s workplace environment, a probe the NFL took over later.

“The NFL, through the investigation conducted by Ms. Wilkinson, was aware that Mr. Snyder and other Team executives not only failed to stop this misconduct but engaged in it themselves. The League also knew that Mr. Snyder and the Commanders organization used a variety of tactics to intimidate, surveil, and pay off whistleblowers and to influence and obstruct Ms. Wilkinson’s work. Rather than seek real accountability, the NFL aligned its legal interests with Mr. Snyder’s, failed to curtail his abusive tactics, and buried the investigation’s findings. The Committee’s investigation demonstrates the urgent need for workplace reform,” the report said.

NFL spokesperson Brian McCarthy said Thursday in a statement that the league is committed to ensuring league employees and employees with its 32 teams work in a professional and supportive environment that is “free from discrimination, harassment, or other forms of illegal or unprofessional conduct.”

The league has implemented “substantial and effective programs” to advance that commitment, McCarthy said.

“The investigation into the Commanders’ workplace that was conducted by Beth Wilkinson’s firm was independent and thorough. No individual who wished to speak to the Wilkinson firm was prevented from doing so by non-disclosure agreements. And many of the more than 150 witnesses who participated in the Wilkinson investigation did so on the condition that their identities would be kept confidential,” the statement said.

“Following the completion of Ms. Wilkinson’s investigation, the NFL issued a public release and imposed a record-setting fine on the club and its ownership. The club also implemented a series of recommendations by the Wilkinson firm and an independent firm has monitored the implementation of those recommendations through regular reviews of the Commanders’ workplace.”

In July, the NFL fined the Commanders $10 million because of the team’s “highly unprofessional” workplace.

'Predictable culmination of that one-sided approach'

John Brownlee and Stuart Nash, lawyers for the Commanders, said in a statement that the committee was not interested in the truth, but rather was “chasing headlines” by pursuing only one side of the story.

“Today’s report is the predictable culmination of that one-sided approach,” the statement said.

“There are no new revelations here. The Committee persists in criticizing Mr. Snyder for declining to voluntarily appear at the Committee’s hearing last spring, notwithstanding Mr. Snyder’s agreement to sit, at a date chosen by the Committee, for an unprecedented 11-hours of questioning under oath,” the statement said.

The lawyers added: “Today’s report does not advance public knowledge of the Washington Commanders workplace in any way. The team is proud of the progress it has made in recent years in establishing a welcoming and inclusive workplace, and it looks forward to future success, both on and off the field.

The committee launched the investigation in October 2021 after the NFL failed to release detailed findings from Wilkinson’s investigation, the report said.

Over 12 months, the committee conducted interviews and depositions, held a roundtable with former employees who experienced sexual harassment and assault while working for the Commanders, and convened a hearing at which NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell testified, the report said.

'Team rife with sexual harassment and misconduct'

Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney said in a statement: “Today’s report reflects the damning findings of the Committee’s year-long investigation and shows how one of the most powerful organizations in America, the NFL, mishandled pervasive sexual harassment and misconduct at the Washington Commanders.

“Our report tells the story of a team rife with sexual harassment and misconduct, a billionaire owner intent on deflecting blame, and an influential organization that chose to cover this up rather than seek accountability and stand up for employees. To powerful industries across the country, this report should serve as a wake-up call that the time of covering up misconduct to protect powerful executives is over.”

Snyder, who has owned the team for two decades, obstructed the committee’s investigation, the report said.

“Mr. Snyder was invited to testify at a public hearing but refused to appear and then sought to avoid service of a subpoena while abroad with his yacht,” the report said. “Mr. Snyder ultimately sat for a private deposition but failed to provide full and complete testimony. Over the course of the deposition, he claimed more than 100 times that he could not recall the answers to the Committee’s questions, including basic inquiries about his role as Team owner and multiple allegations of misconduct. Mr. Snyder also gave misleading testimony about his efforts to interfere with the Wilkinson Investigation.”

'Mr. Snyder publicly assailed witnesses'

The committee also determined that Snyder used a variety of tactics to intimidate witnesses who spoke out against him, including using private investigators to conduct surveillance and intimidate.

“The fruits of Mr. Snyder’s efforts were compiled into dossiers and used to make ‘several presentations’ to the NFL and Ms. Wilkinson to convince them that Mr. Snyder was not responsible for the Commanders’ toxic workplace culture,” the report said.

The report also said Snyder tried to interfere with the committee’s investigation.

“Mr. Snyder publicly assailed witnesses, refused to release former employees from their confidentiality obligations, and blocked the Committee’s access to tens of thousands of documents collected during the Wilkinson Investigation. Despite Mr. Snyder’s public pledge to cooperate with the Committee’s investigation, he refused to testify at a public hearing, dodged a duly issued congressional subpoena, and failed to testify fully and completely in a Committee deposition.”

Snyder, the report said, leaked derogatory documents about witnesses as “retaliation” for their cooperation with the committee.

He released internal documents from the email accounts of former employees who cooperated, it said.

“Mr. Snyder’s efforts appeared designed to smear and intimidate witnesses and send a chilling message to others who were considering coming forward to share information with the Committee about the toxic workplace at the Team,” the report said.

One such instance, the report said, involved former Commanders President Bruce Allen.

Snyder’s lawyers sent an email to the committee’s staff on the eve of Allen’s deposition, the report said. The email included a set of documents from Allen’s tenure with the team that Snyder’s lawyers deemed relevant to his deposition. The email suggested the documents be shared with Allen so he would “have an opportunity to review them prior to his deposition,” the report said.

The documents included emails with embarrassing language and inappropriate content, the report said.

“These emails, which were apparently collected from Mr. Allen’s Commanders account, included those that had been leaked to the Wall Street Journal and New York Times in October 2021,” the report said. “When asked why he believed Mr. Snyder would provide the tranche of documents the night before his deposition, Mr. Allen explained that Mr. Snyder was ‘trying to send a message’ to him to ‘be careful.’ According to Mr. Allen, Mr. Snyder’s actions signaled that ‘he owns me with these emails, which affect my coworkers, the alumni, my family and friends.’”

NFL does not address issues of workplace misconduct head on

The report was also highly critical of the NFL.

"Rather than address issues of workplace misconduct head on, the NFL has deferred responsibility to its clubs. The League’s Personal Conduct Policy defines the standards of conduct that applies to all League and club employees and owners," the report said.

"However, according to an internal document obtained by the Committee that explains reporting requirements under this policy, 'workplace complaints of sexual harassment,' including 'non-physical sexual harassment, discrimination, retaliation' are not considered 'conduct that undermines or puts at risk the integrity of the NFL, NFL clubs or NFL personnel' under the NFL’s Personal Conduct Policy and instead defers to clubs to such matters internally," the report found.

Snyder sexually harassed female subordinates for years and even had secret “soft porn” videos made of cheerleaders, former employees told a congressional committee in February.

Six former employees made the allegations at a House Oversight and Reform Committee roundtable on toxic workplace culture.

Former employee Tiffani Johnston made new allegations against Snyder on Thursday, saying that he placed his hand on her thigh without her consent at a team dinner and that he pushed her toward his limousine with his hand on her lower back.

“He left his hand on the middle of my thigh until I physically removed it,” Johnston said.

Describing the incident outside Snyder’s limousine, she said: “The only reason Dan Snyder removed his hand from my back and stopped pushing me towards his limo was because his attorney intervened and said, ‘Dan, Dan, this is a bad idea.’ ... I learned that I should remove myself from Dan’s grip while his attorney was distracting him.”

Former marketing director Melanie Coburn and onetime video production manager Brad Baker both repeated the allegation that Snyder had secret videos made for him, called “The Good Bits,” from video recorded at cheerleader shoots.

“We trusted the production team to capture footage and keep it safe. Little did we know, they were zooming in on private parts and keeping cameras rolling during costume changes,” Coburn told lawmakers in her prepared remarks.

Representatives for the team, renamed the Commanders, had released a statement from Snyder denying the allegations from the hearing.

“I have acknowledged and apologized multiple times in the past for the misconduct which took place at the Team and the harm suffered by some of our valued employees,” Snyder said. “I apologize again today for this conduct, and fully support the people who have been victimized and have come forward to tell their stories.

“While past conduct at the Team was unacceptable, the allegations leveled against me personally in today’s roundtable — many of which are well over 13 years old — are outright lies,” he continued. “I unequivocally deny having participated in any such conduct, at any time and with respect to any person.”  

Complaints about the team’s treatment of female employees first surfaced in 2020.

Lisa Banks and Debra Katz, attorneys for more than 40 former employees of the Washington Commanders, said in a statement Thursday:

“Over two years ago, our clients came forward to share publicly their experiences of sexual harassment and abuse at the Washington Commanders. Because neither the team nor the NFL was willing to reveal the extent of what occurred or hold accountable those responsible, and instead tried to obstruct any efforts to do so, Congress was compelled to take action,” the statement said.

“Today, after a lengthy and wide-ranging investigation, the Committee on Oversight and Reform issued a comprehensive report that definitively details not only the extensive sexual harassment that occurred, but also owner Dan Snyder’s involvement in that sexual harassment and his efforts to obstruct the various investigations into that scandal,” the statement said.