The NFL has informed the House Committee on Oversight and Reform that Mary Jo White will lead the investigation into new allegations surrounding Washington Commanders owner Dan Snyder.
The league said it will release a written report publicly, something that was not done after the initial investigation into Washington’s workplace culture.
White, a former chair of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, led the 2018 investigation into Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson, who was accused of workplace misconduct, including sexual harassment and use of a racial slur, by former Panthers’ employees. Richardson decided to sell the team long before White’s five-month investigation ended. The league fined him $2.75 million after her probe found him at fault.
The NFL already has fined Washington $10 million for its workplace culture following a nearly yearlong investigation by attorney Beth Wilkinson and her firm. That fine was announced July 1. However, depending on White’s findings, further penalties could be levied on Washington and Snyder.
Washington’s NFL franchise has new name but same old problem: Dan Snyder runs the team
A new accusation against Snyder by former Washington employee Tiffani Johnston led to the team and the league both saying they would investigate. But NFL commissioner Roger Goodell made it clear that only the NFL would be looking into the matter, and the team on Friday released a statement backing up Goodell.
“The Washington Commanders are pleased that the NFL has appointed Mary Jo White to look into the recent allegations made by Tiffani Johnston,” the statement read. “The Commanders have always been intent on having a full and fair investigation of this matter conducted and to releasing the results of that investigation. Given the Team’s confidence in Ms. White’s ability to conduct such a full and fair investigation, the Commanders will not separately pursue an investigation and will cooperate fully with Ms. White.”
Johnston, a former marketing and events coordinator for the team, told a congressional committee at a roundtable session Feb. 3 that she was “strategically” placed next to Snyder at a work dinner sometime in 2005 or 2006 “not to discuss business, but to allow him, Dan Snyder, to place his hand on my thigh under the table.”
She also said Snyder later tried to force her into his limousine. A letter from Jason Friedman, another former employee, was presented at the roundtable, stating he had witnessed Snyder trying to steer Johnston into the limo.
Johnston was one of five women who shared their story in front of Congress, but the others had cooperated during the initial investigation. Johnston said she declined to talk to Wilkinson, who was in charge of that investigation, out of fear of retaliation by Snyder.
Lisa Banks, who along with Debra Katz represents at least 40 former Washington employees, including Johnston, said in a statement that they were under the belief that Wilkinson would lead this investigation as well.
Banks said Wilkinson had earned the “trust of dozens of victims and witnesses who provided her with evidence of pervasive sexual harassment and abuse.” Banks said Wilkinson’s prior work had given her “unique knowledge” of the Commanders’ organization and the workplace culture as well as, she said, Snyder’s credibility.
“Having a new investigator, with no such prior knowledge, assess Ms. Johnston’s allegations and Mr. Snyder’s denials in a vacuum makes no sense at all,” the statement read. “That said, we will discuss with Ms. Johnston her willingness to participate, and are pleased that the NFL has agreed to make the results public. On behalf of our many other clients, we urge Commissioner Goodell to make the same decision with respect to Ms. Wilkinson’s investigation. Certainly the results of that comprehensive investigation would provide an important blueprint for the new investigator to conduct her work.”
The initial report was delivered orally, Goodell said, because many who participated wanted to remain anonymous. Several women who participated, however, have been vocal about their desire for all the information to be released.
The NFL says White’s investigation will be made public because the allegations were brought in an open forum with no expectation of anonymity.
White, who is part of the firm Debevoise & Plimpton, also was part of the NFL’s external expert advisory panel on domestic violence. She helped review allegations against Dallas running back Ezekiel Elliott, who was then suspended for six games in 2017.
The NFL and Washington have been at odds over the workplace situation and the team’s cooperation with Congress. The league sent a letter to Congress on Feb. 9, saying the team has blocked access to more than 100,000 documents. The team denied preventing the NFL from obtaining any nonprivileged documents.
At the time, an oversight committee spokesperson said, “Until the NFL holds Mr. Snyder accountable and stops hiding the truth about the outrageous workplace conduct under his watch, the League’s claims about transparency and accountability will continue to ring hollow.”
If Congress is not satisfied with the documents it receives, or if information reveals a need for more action, it could opt to hold hearings and issue subpoenas if necessary.
ESPN’s Tisha Thompson contributed to this report.
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