She’s served in the U.S. Army, successfully argued for the execution of a mass murderer, and represented the NFL in an antitrust lawsuit.
Her name is Beth Wilkinson, and she’s an attorney hired by the Washington football team to investigate accusations of workplace misconduct.
And as she faces this challenge, Wilkinson could become a much more familiar figure in the sports world. She will be conducting an investigation and review of an organizational culture that was detailed in a Thursday Washington Post story documenting numerous accusations of sexual harassment.
Fifteen female former employees told the Post they were sexually harassed during their time with the team. The allegations cover the years 2006 to 2019, the newspaper said, and fall into several main categories of inappropriate workplace conduct, including sexually explicit comments, uninvited contact or requests to wear revealing clothing or flirt with clients during sales negotiations.
Team owner Dan Snyder, who was not directly accused of misconduct by the women, declined to be interviewed for the story, but did issue a statement on Friday.
“Beth Wilkinson and her firm are empowered to do a full, unbiased investigation and make any and all requisite recommendations,” Snyder said. “Upon completion of her work, we will institute new policies and procedures and strengthen our human resources infrastructure to not only avoid these issues in the future but most importantly create a team culture that is respectful and inclusive of all.”
In one of several examples cited by the Post, Alex Santos, the team’s director of pro personnel, was accused by six former employees and two beat reporters of making remarks about their physical appearance and asking if they were interested in dating him. Santos was abruptly fired by the team this week.
Longtime radio play-by-play man Larry Michael, who was also identified for making sexualized comments by accusers in the story, abruptly announced his retirement on Wednesday.
Wilkinson said in a statement to Sportico that her firm, Wilkinson Walsh, has been retained by the team “to do an independent review of the team’s culture, policies and allegations of workplace misconduct.” Wilkinson did not respond to an email from Sportico seeking additional comment.
The league in a statement called the alleged conduct “serious, disturbing and contrary to the NFL’s values.” Further, the NFL said it would meet with Wilkinson’s team after their investigation and “take any action based on the findings.”
Although her firm touts its success in boutique trial litigation across several industries, Wilkinson herself has an extensive background in handling sports cases. Her online biography says she represented the NFL in a class-action suit over the Sunday Ticket package in 2019. She also represented the NCAA in an antitrust lawsuit brought by student-athletes across various sports and has a reputation as a skilled trial lawyer.
Wilkinson began her legal career as part of the judge advocate corps in the Army. She successfully prosecuted Timothy McVeigh, who blew up the Oklahoma City federal building in 1995, killing 168 people in the process.
While Wilkinson led the death penalty case against McVeigh, she believes the death penalty needs to reformed on the state level. In the podcast “Behind the Trial” recorded last year, she spoke of how it’s abused by some judges up for election, overruling juries that declined to utilize it, for political gain.
Wilkinson said one of the main challenges in a trial is “to be able to take something that’s complicated and take it down to its essence…. The learning process I go through then allows me to turn around and go teach a jury.”
On the podcast she also discussed one of her core beliefs about trial work.
“I tell everyone I work with that you fall in love with your judge, and you fall in love with your jury,” she said, “but you never fall in love with your case.”
The NFL and several of its teams have a history with hiring outside consultants to conduct internal investigations.
One of the more high-profile instances occurred in 2014 when Robert Mueller was hired by the league office to investigate an Associated Press report that league executives had the videotape of Ray Rice assaulting his then-fiancée in an elevator before it was released to the public.
External investigators were also used after accusations that then-New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady illegally deflated footballs, as well as in a case of bullying brought by Dolphins lineman Jonathan Martin, who accused teammates in Miami of abuse.
(This story has been updated with a statement from Redskins owner Dan Snyder.)