- The Washington Times
Tuesday, June 21, 2022

Washington Commanders owner Dan Snyder was accused of sexually harassing and assaulting a former team employee in 2009 before the team paid her $1.6 million as part of a confidential settlement, according to a new report. 

The Washington Post reported Tuesday that the woman told the team that Snyder allegedly asked her for sex, groped her and attempted to pull off her clothing during a private flight back from Las Vegas in April 2009. 

Snyder has denied the allegations — his legal team called them “meritless” in a court document in 2020, saying the payment only came at the request of an insurance company — but the bombshell comes on the eve of Wednesday’s hearing from the House Oversight and Reform Committee in which NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell is set to testify remotely. Snyder turned down a request to appear at the hearing, citing concerns over the format and a prior business-related conflict. 

This marks the second instance in which Snyder has been directly accused of sexual misconduct as former cheerleader and marketing manager Tiffani Johnston told members of Congress in February that the owner touched her thigh underneath a table and tried to force her into his limo. The incident, she said, took place at a work dinner in 2005 or 2006.

The latest allegations were uncovered after the Post obtained a letter that detailed the accusations in a legal correspondence from the team’s outside counsel in response to “the woman’s legal threats”.

The letter sought to discredit the woman’s accusations, citing an investigation conducted by team lawyer David Donovan that contradicted the claims. Former employees of the plane told Donovan that they did notice signs of an assault or distress during the flight, according to the letter. Donovan “cited the plane’s tight configuration and quiet engine” as well in concluding the woman fabricated the assault, according to the Post. 

The letter also asserted the woman was trying to extort the team, noting she had previously learned that she wouldn’t be receiving an expected bonus from the team and that she sent an email to her husband that complained about a credit card balance of more than $35,000. Donovan, according to the letter, received differing accounts of her assault from the woman — saying she changed details of Snyder’s actions on three occasions. Donovan also reportedly questioned the woman’s actions, such as wearing “sexually provocative” clothing as well as her conduct at work. 

The woman, according to the letter, alleged that Snyder asked her to sit with him in the back of the plane, which had six other passengers. The letter says the woman claims she pushed Snyder away to stop the alleged assault. 

The Commanders, then known as the Redskins, went on to hand out a seven-figure sum to the woman to avoid her filing a lawsuit or disclosing the allegations publicly in July 2009. 

The existence of the team’s settlement with the woman was first reported in December 2020.  The exact details of her accusations, however, weren’t known until now.

According to the Post, attorney Beth Wilkinson, who led the NFL’s investigation of the Commanders, interviewed Snyder’s accuser as part of her probe. 

Wilkinson’s investigation concluded last summer when the league put out a summary of the findings and fined the team $10 million for the misconduct. The league faced criticism for not releasing a written report of Wilkinson’s investigation. The backlash led Congress to get involved.

Wilkinson reportedly clashed with Donovan, Snyder’s former lawyer who no longer works for the team, during her probe. Donovan filed a lawsuit that sought to prohibit the attorney  “from disclosing anything about the 2009 investigation or settlement in her final report to the NFL,” the Post report.  

It is not publicly known whether the Commanders alerted the NFL of the woman’s allegations before the settlement. The team handled the investigation, running contrary to the NFL’s personal conduct policy that called for the league office to oversee sexual assault investigations. 

• Matthew Paras can be reached at mparas@washingtontimes.com.

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