The attorney general of Washington, D.C., said Washington Commanders fans were deceived, and their employees were lied to, according to a civil lawsuit filed against the NFL team and embattled owner Dan Snyder.
The office of D.C. AG Karl Racine filed a consumer protection lawsuit on Thursday that, along with the Commanders and Snyder, includes the NFL and commissioner Roger Goodell as defendants in the case. The league and Goodell are being accused of colluding with Snyder in a plan to mislead D.C. residents during an independent investigation into the team’s toxic workplace culture, in order to remain profitable and maintain fan support.
“You can’t lie to D.C. residents in order to protect your image, profits and get away with it,” Racine said at a press conference on Thursday. “No matter who you are, no one, not Mr. Snyder [or] Mr. Goodell… not even the National Football League, is above the law.”
The lawsuit comes after a year-long investigation into the Commanders by Racine’s office. While the team plays home games at FedEx Field in Maryland and has its offices in Virginia, it considers D.C. residents a central part of its fan base.
“We agree with AG Racine on one thing: The public needs to know the truth,” Commanders general counsel Stuart Nash and John Brownlee said in a statement. “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.”
Racine is alleging the defendants violated the district’s consumer protection act, which prohibits deceptive business practices and is designed to protect residents from being treated unfairly. The lawsuit states that Snyder was improperly given investigation information, and the league turned a blind eye to the owner’s attempts to stifle witnesses from speaking out about their experiences during the investigation. The Commanders hired independent counsel Beth Wilkinson to look into the sexual harassment claims.
The lawsuit alleges the NFL refused to reveal Wilkinson’s detailed findings after a direct negotiation with Snyder. Racine says the lack of transparency about the investigation violates consumer protection laws.
“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. “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.”
The lawsuit also alleges the league was acting fraudulently when it assumed control over an investigation into Commanders’ workplace misconduct allegations uncovered in congressional testimony. The NFL hired former SEC chair Mary Jo White to ensure it would be done independently and without Snyder’s influence.
“This, of course, was all for show,” Racine said of the change of oversight. “In reality, the Commanders and the NFL secretly entered into an agreement about the investigation the public didn’t know about.”
While there are no specific monetary damages sought in the case, each violation has a maximum fine of $5,000 under the law, Racine says. His office is not only planning to issue subpoenas but also seeking testimonies under oath and dispositions.
The Commanders recently announced that it retained Bank of America to explore a potential sale of the team; it remains unclear if that was intended for a minority or a controlling stake. This lawsuit will continue regardless of if Snyder sells the franchise, according to Racine, whose term as attorney general ends on Jan. 2, 2023. Racine will be replaced by incoming attorney general Brian Schwalb.
The potential of Snyder selling a controlling stake has already generated interest from several wealthy figures, including Amazon co-founder and Washington Post owner Jeff Bezos. The Commanders were valued at $4.7 billion, the eighth highest overall, in Sportico’s latest NFL valuations.