The N.F.L. has taken over an investigation into claims of sexual harassment made by more than a dozen women who worked for the Washington Football Team during the past two decades.
The move comes after lawyers representing some of the women last week criticized the investigation and the N.F.L. Commissioner Roger Goodell for allowing the team’s owner, Daniel Snyder, to hire the law firm that is investigating the matter and to control the response to its findings.
In July, Snyder hired Beth Wilkinson, a founding partner of Wilkinson Walsh, to conduct “an independent review of the team’s culture, policies and allegations of workplace misconduct” that were raised in reporting by The Washington Post. The newspaper published another story last month that included claims from another two dozen women about pervasive harassment while employed by the team, including allegations that implicated Snyder. A former cheerleader accused the team owner of propositioning her and a former staffer said that a lewd video recording of the outtakes of a cheerleader photo shoot was made at Snyder’s behest.
Snyder denied many elements of The Post’s reporting, including the proposition allegation and any involvement in the recording.
On Monday, Snyder said in a statement that he suggested to Goodell that the league take over the investigation “so that the results are thorough, complete and trusted by the fans, the players, our employees and the public.”
Wilkinson will now report directly to the league, not to Snyder.
Lisa Friel, a special counsel for investigations at the N.F.L., met yesterday with lawyers representing some of the women who spoke to the Washington Post. After their meeting, Lisa Banks and Debra Katz, lawyers who represent more than 15 former team employees, said that the N.F.L. “assured us that any repercussions for the team or its owner will be commensurate” with the findings of the investigation.
Some of those employees said they would not cooperate if Snyder had ultimate say over the investigation.
“Our clients would gladly participate in such an N.F.L. investigation, but do not feel safe speaking to investigators hired by Mr. Snyder and do not trust the investigation that is currently underway,” the lawyers said in a letter to Goodell last week.
The N.F.L. also said the Washington team would release employees or former employees from nondisclosure agreements to allow them to speak with investigators. Lawyers for the accusers want the team to go a step further and release them from all elements of their nondisclosure agreements, freeing them to speak with each other and to family, friends, and the media.
“We communicated our strong belief that without this type of transparency, there can be no real accountability, and moreover, that victims of this type of abuse should be able to tell their stories when and how they wish to do so, without threat of legal action,” Banks and Katz, the lawyers for the women, said.
Last week, Banks and Katz also called on the N.F.L. to “publicly commit to taking action to remove Snyder as the majority owner” of the team if the investigation substantiates the accounts reported by The Washington Post. The lawyers also asked the league to advise Snyder to not take legal action against women who spoke out about their experiences at the team.
Last month, Snyder accused Mary Ellen Blair, a former executive assistant who left the team in 2017, of taking money and assisting in a campaign to spread damaging information against him. In a filing in Federal District Court in Alexandria, Va., Snyder said that starting in late May or early June, Blair began reaching out to current and former team employees seeking information that would discredit the team owner.
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