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Off-Field Misconduct: U.S. Congress finds Dan Snyder and NFL interfered in Workplace Investigation

December 22, 2022

On December 8, 2022, the United States House Committee on Oversight and Reform published a report finding that the NFL’s Washington Commanders organization created and maintained a toxic workplace culture for decades. In doing so, the club was found to have ignored and downplayed several instances of sexual misconduct and harassment.

The report was especially critical of Commanders’ owner, Dan Snyder, and the NFL itself. The report found that Snyder concealed evidence that he and other team executives sexually harassed female employees within the organization, while NFL commissioner, Roger Goodell, helped suppress that evidence.

What sparked the investigation into the Commanders’ toxic workplace culture?

In July 2020, the Washington Post published an article describing the toxic workplace environment within the Commanders’ organization after several women alleged they had been sexually harassed while working for the team. In response, Snyder hired a Washington-based lawyer named Beth Wilkinson to conduct a workplace investigation that was ultimately overseen by the NFL.

Wilkinson’s initial mandate included writing a report at the end of her investigation, but commissioner Goodell later requested that she only provide her findings verbally. However, when Wilkinson finished her investigation in July 2021, the NFL released a brief summary of findings. Commissioner Goodell also released a statement summarizing Wilkinson’s findings, saying that the workplace environment within Washington’s football club was “highly unprofessional” and that employees experienced bullying and intimidation through a culture of fear. As a result, the team was fined by the NFL and Snyder agreed to step away from managing the team for at least a year.

But the story was far from over.

After new allegations, the U.S. congressional committee began an investigation into the Commanders’ workplace culture

Soon after the summary of Wilkinson’s investigation was released, several women who alleged they had been sexually harassed while working for the Commanders accused the NFL of concealing evidence that incriminated Snyder and other team executives. This led to the U.S. congressional committee embarking on a year-long investigation in October 2021, which culminated in the December 8 report.

The committee’s report spoke about several instances of sexual misconduct experienced by employees of the organization. For example, one former employee said he was asked to produce a video featuring footage from a photo shoot where team cheerleaders had to pose topless, while another former employee stated that Snyder touched her thigh under the table at a work event and later attempted “to push her toward his limousine.”

The report also found that Snyder went to great lengths to interfere with the investigation, including:

  • offering former employees “hush money” to stay silent about their experiences
  • intimidating witnesses from being interviewed through different means, including leaking emails that contained embarrassing and improper content
  • refusing to release employees from non-disclosure or confidentiality agreements
  • using information obtained about complainants and other witnesses to harass them or cast doubt on their evidence

The committee’s report also found that the Commanders and the NFL had a common interest agreement that was previously undisclosed. As such, the committee’s report stated that the NFL refused to produce over 40,000 relevant documents, including Wilkinson’s actual findings.

As for the NFL, the report suggested that the league knew that Snyder was trying to silence former employees and prevent them from being interviewed, but did nothing to stop him. In addition, the report found that the NFL does not manage or oversee how each of its teams handles workplace complaints, but instead allows each individual club to investigate allegations of workplace misconduct without requiring them to notify the league.

Takeaways for employers

Integrity is a key component of the workplace investigation process, as it helps ensure that all parties are given the opportunity to tell their story truthfully. When painful and traumatic allegations of workplace misconduct are being investigated, it is essential that employees feel safe and secure when participating in these investigations. An employer who interferes in a workplace investigation by attempting to influence or sway employees in one direction or the other risks making employees feel uncomfortable with participating. While investigations are a valuable tool in addressing workplace misconduct and conflict, the case of Snyder and the NFL demonstrates that employers can negatively affect the usefulness of such investigations through their own actions. Thus, employers need to ensure that all instances of workplace misconduct are investigated through a transparent and fair process. Otherwise, employers run the risk of leaving damaging workplace issues unresolved or having their reputation as an organization tarnished.