The Washington Commanders owner Daniel Snyder, aided by N.F.L. Commissioner Roger Goodell, suppressed evidence that Snyder and team executives sexually harassed women who worked at the team over two decades, according to the results of a yearlong inquiry by the House Committee on Oversight and Reform.
In a 74-page report released Thursday, the committee said Snyder went to extraordinary lengths to stall investigations into him and his team. The efforts, the report said, included his attempt to pay former employees “hush money” to not discuss their experiences, the refusal to release one woman from her nondisclosure agreement after she settled a sexual misconduct claim against Snyder for $1.6 million, and the use of private investigators and leaked emails to intimidate former employees from participating in interviews.
The report also chastised the N.F.L. for failing to prevent Snyder from interfering with its investigation of harassment claims and for not appropriately addressing Snyder’s conduct.
At the end of the league’s investigation, Snyder and the team’s lawyers were allowed to negotiate the team’s $10 million penalty directly with the league, rather than leave the decision to the N.F.L.’s executive committee as is standard, and pay the fine in a way that may have provided the team a tax benefit, the report said.
The N.F.L.’s recommendations for reforming the Commanders, the report said, also “bore a striking resemblance” to those that stemmed from the N.B.A.’s 2018 internal investigation of workplace misconduct at the Dallas Mavericks, suggesting that the N.F.L. did little more than copy another league’s homework.
“The committee’s investigation shows that the N.F.L. has not protected workers from sexual harassment and abuse, has failed to ensure victims can speak up without fear of retaliation, and has not sought true accountability for those responsible, even after decades of misconduct,” the committee concluded in its report.
Jean Medina, a spokeswoman for the Commanders, did not respond to specific questions about the allegations against Snyder. Instead, she forwarded a memo written by Republican committee members Wednesday night which called the committee’s investigation a “sham” intended to harass a private business and depose its owner.
“Committee Democrats have spent invaluable Committee time and resources investigating a private business that has already been investigated and held accountable,” the letter said.
A spokesman for the N.F.L. declined to comment until the league had the chance to review the report.
Much of what is included in the committee’s report substantiated previous reporting by The Washington Post, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and the committee itself, which released interim reports this year. One of the interim reports documented the so-called shadow investigation Snyder directed to obstruct the league’s inquiry.
Thursday’s report included excerpts from an 11-hour deposition Snyder gave under oath in July in which he “testified over 100 times that he did not know or could not recall basic facts about his role as owner of the Commanders.”
The report also showed that the day before the committee deposed Allen, the former Washington team president, Snyder submitted “embarrassing” and “inappropriate” emails that Allen sent while he worked for the team. The report concluded that this was done as part of Snyder’s broader effort to intimidate witnesses.
The Republicans’ memo said the committee had ignored Allen’s own role in creating a hostile work environment at the club. Allen was fired by Snyder in December 2019.
The committee said that Snyder used information that his lawyers collected on victims, witnesses and journalists in an effort to harass and discredit former employees. That data included their social media activity and phone records.
Lisa Banks and Debra Katz, lawyers for many of the women who raised harassment complaints, lauded the congressional report for “creating a public record of what had been hidden for decades,” adding that they looked forward to “a full and truthful reporting” of the N.F.L.’s investigation into allegations related to Snyder’s conduct and financial improprieties at the team.
The report was released just weeks before Republicans will assume control of the House and its committees on Jan. 3. Shortly after most of the midterm races were decided in November, the incoming chair of the committee, Representative James Comer, Republican of Kentucky, announced that the inquiry into the Commanders’ workplace culture would end.
Comer, through a spokesperson, declined to comment.
Representative Carolyn B. Maloney, Democrat of New York, who has chaired the committee since 2019 and oversaw the investigation into Snyder and the Commanders, was beaten in a primary race earlier this year.
It was unclear what next steps could be taken as a result of the report, though Maloney said she was confident that it would have implications “not just for the N.F.L. — but all of corporate America,” citing two pieces of legislation she has proposed about nondisclosure agreements and abuse of employee images.
“I am also pleased by reports that the findings of our investigation have sparked multiple additional inquiries,” Maloney said. “And I imagine our report will further inform those efforts.”
The report comes as Snyder faces open investigations of workplace culture and financial improprieties at the team, including those led by the attorneys general of Virginia and the District of Columbia, and by the N.F.L. The mounting scrutiny of Snyder and the league prompted one of Snyder’s peers, the Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay, to say publicly that he should be forced out of the N.F.L., a move that would require the support of at least 24 of the league’s 32 team owners.
While the league’s other team owners have grumbled privately about Snyder, several owners, speaking on the condition of anonymity, have told The New York Times that they would be reluctant to force a sale because it would set a precedent that could be used against them.
Last month, Snyder, whose wife, Tanya, is co-owner of the Commanders, hired bankers to explore various options for selling some or all of the franchise, which has been valued at $5.6 billion.
A Toxic Environment
The troubles at the team came to a head in July 2020 when The Washington Post published a story detailing the toxic environment at the club, citing interviews with more than a dozen women who said they were sexually harassed while working there. Snyder hired Beth Wilkinson, a Washington-based lawyer, to investigate the allegations, but the league took over oversight.
Wilkinson was initially asked to prepare a written report at the end of the investigation and prepared written evidence as part of four status briefings to the league while the investigation was in progress, according to the committee’s report. Goodell decided in October 2020 to have her present her final findings only verbally.
In November 2020, the Commanders’ former general counsel sued to block Wilkinson from using nonpublic documents that implicated Snyder in paying a settlement in 2009 to a former team employee who accused him of sexual misconduct during a flight on his private jet.
The team, the committee said, did not report the nature of the former employee’s allegations to the N.F.L. until 2020, during the league’s investigation, and the team refused to release her from a nondisclosure agreement in an attempt to prevent her from speaking about the incident to investigators, though she eventually did.
When Wilkinson’s investigation concluded in July 2021, the N.F.L. released only a brief summary of the inquiry’s findings. The league claimed that the decision was made to protect the privacy of some of the former team employees who spoke to Wilkinson.
Goodell concluded the league’s inquiry by releasing a statement saying that Wilkinson had found that for many years the workplace environment at the team, particularly for women, was “highly unprofessional” and that employees were bullied and intimidated amid a culture of fear. Numerous female employees, Goodell said, were sexually harassed.
The N.F.L. fined the team and Snyder agreed to relinquish day-to-day control for at least a year.
After several of the women who came forward with sexual harassment allegations accused the N.F.L. of covering up evidence incriminating Snyder and his team, the congressional committee began its own inquiry in October 2021.
As the committee attempted to look into conduct at the team, the report says, “the league, working closely with the Commanders through a previously undisclosed common interest agreement, refused to produce more than 40,000 responsive documents, including the findings of the Wilkinson investigation and materials from Ms. Wilkinson’s files.”
The report released Thursday included numerous allegations that were made by former employees during the Wilkinson investigation, many of which had been revealed in articles published by The New York Times in 2018 and The Washington Post in 2020.
One male former employee said that team executives told him to produce a video for Snyder that included lewd outtakes from a photo shoot where the team’s cheerleaders were required to pose topless, and that Snyder was aware that some team sponsors had been allowed to attend the shoot. The women who worked as cheerleaders had not consented to the use of the footage or the presence of sponsors.
During the congressional inquiry, former employees made new claims directly against Snyder. Speaking at a committee round table, Tiffani Johnston, a former marketing and events coordinator for the team, said that at a work dinner in either 2005 or 2006, she sat next to Snyder, who put his hand on her thigh under the table. Later that night, she said, she resisted Snyder’s attempt to push her toward his limousine.
Melanie Coburn, a former cheerleader and director of marketing, told the committee in February that Snyder hosted a work event at his Aspen, Colo., home, for which team executives hired prostitutes.
The N.F.L.’s Second Investigation
The allegations from the February hearing prompted the N.F.L. to start its second investigation into Snyder and the team. It is being led by Mary Jo White, a former Securities and Exchange Commission chair and federal prosecutor. The league said there was no timetable for White to conclude her report.
Several former employees testified to Congress that Snyder, when told that female staff members complained of being harassed by male co-workers, did nothing to address the problems, and even defended one of the men.
Snyder, witnesses said, “endorsed a toxic culture at the Commanders in which sexual misconduct, exploitation of women, bullying of men, and other inappropriate behavior was commonplace, and that he was a hands-on owner who had a role in nearly every organizational decision,” the committee wrote in Thursday’s report. “As one witness confirmed, Mr. Snyder ‘created a culture where this behavior was accepted and encouraged.’”
The committee also said that the N.F.L. warned Snyder to cooperate with the Wilkinson investigation as early as August 2020, but that the league did not step in to prevent Snyder from obstructing former employees from being interviewed. The league, it said, was made aware that Snyder was trying to intimidate former employees, and failed to stop him from doing so.
Allen told the committee Snyder used some of his emails to gain advantage in other litigation. Allen said he reported this to the N.F.L.’s special counsel for investigations, Lisa Friel, who told him Snyder’s use of the emails was “conduct detrimental to the league,” a punishable offense.
Snyder and Goodell were both called by the committee to testify in early June. While Goodell agreed to provide virtual testimony three weeks later, it took nearly two months and the threat of a congressional subpoena before Snyder’s lawyers agreed to terms that resulted in Snyder’s virtual appearance and testimony under oath, which he provided in late July.
The committee concluded that the league does not have oversight into how its teams manage sexual harassment complaints, leaving teams to investigate rather than notifying the league office of potential workplace violations. The existing protocol, the committee said, runs counter to the recommendation made in 2018 by White after she advised the N.F.L. as it investigated allegations of domestic violence made against Dallas Cowboys’ running back Ezekiel Elliott.
“The N.F.L.’s ongoing failure to take workplace misconduct seriously is compounded by its own policies that are designed to protect the interests of club owners,” the committee’s report said.
The committee also took issue with the N.F.L.’s failure to appropriately penalize Snyder, citing that even after his suspension he was allowed to continue to work on the team’s two biggest economic initiatives: its rebranding and the push for a new stadium. He has also shown up to the team’s games, though not to N.F.L. owners meetings, instead leaving Tanya Snyder to represent them.
In October, Daniel Snyder told a Washington-area radio station that his restrictions were lifted and Commanders team lawyers said that Snyder was back to running the team.