- The Washington Times
Thursday, November 10, 2022

D.C. Attorney General Karl A. Racine filed a consumer protection lawsuit Thursday against the Washington Commanders, owner Dan Snyder, the NFL and league Commissioner Roger Goodell, accusing them of colluding to deceive and mislead District consumers about the league’s investigation into the team’s workplace misconduct.

The 45-page complaint alleges the Commanders and the league conspired to mislead consumers so that fans would keep financially supporting the team.

Speaking at a press conference Thursday, Mr. Racine said the lawsuit was filed to provide “accountability” for the public. He said his office plans to issue subpoenas to Mr. Snyder and others for depositions. 

“You can’t lie to D.C. residents in order to protect your image, your profits and get away with it, no matter who you are,” Mr. Racine said. “No one. … not even if you’re the National Football League.” 

Though Mr. Racine declined to define a specific amount his office is seeking in damages, he said the law allows for fines of up to $5,000 per lie. His office said its seeking financial penalties based on “every incident in which the Commanders, Snyder, the NFL, and Goodell lied to District residents dating back to July 2020.” 

That, the office added, could be worth millions. 

The Commanders are headquartered in Virginia and play their home games in Maryland, but Mr. Racine said his office has jurisdiction because the District’s Consumer Protection Procedures Act allows any action to be taken against a company that makes misleading, false and deceptive comments to District consumers. 

The Commanders and the NFL each issued statements pushing back against the District official’s action. 

“We agree with AG Racine on one thing: the public needs to know the truth,” John Brownlee and Stuart Nash, counsel for the Commanders, said in a statement. “Although the lawsuit repeats a lot of innuendo, half-truths and lies, we welcome this opportunity to defend the organization — for the first time — in a court of law and to establish, once and for all, what is fact and what is fiction.”

NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy added the league “imposed a record-setting fine” against Washington for its misconduct and conducted a thorough investigation. 

“We reject the legally unsound and factually baseless allegations made today by the D.C. Attorney General against the NFL and Commissioner Goodell and will vigorously defend against those claims,” he said. 

Mr. Racine’s office began investigating the Commanders last fall, months after the team was fined $10 million by the NFL for its workplace misconduct. The office didn’t confirm there was an investigation underway until April, when shortly after a congressional panel sent a letter to the Federal Trade Commission and attorneys generals in the District, Maryland and Virginia to inform them the Commanders may have committed multiple acts financial improprieties. 

The letter was based on the testimony of a former Commanders ticket executive who testified the team sought to withhold refundable security deposits from season-ticket holders, among other allegations. 

But Thursday’s lawsuit did not delve into the allegations of financial improprieties — with Mr. Racine saying that “there will be more news on that next week.” 

Instead, Mr. Racine focused on the allegations of Washington’s workplace misconduct. He accused Mr. Snyder of lying about what he did — and didn’t — know about the scandal, telling reporters the embattled billionaire encouraged and participated in the team’s “toxic” culture. 

Most of Thursday’s lawsuit recycled information that had already emerged about Washington’s workplace, whether through news reports or other investigations such as the probe being conducted by the House Oversight and Reform Committee. 

But in a new piece of information, the complaint alleges that a female former chef emailed Mr. Snyder and other executives about a sexual harassment incident she said she was scared to report because the head chef involved “bragged he was untouchable because Snyder had hired him.”

The attorney general’s office said it interviewed roughly a dozen people to inform their lawsuit. The office also received more than 500,000 pages of documents related to the league’s prior investigation into the Commanders conducted by attorney Beth Wilkinson. The Wilkinson findings led the league to fine Washington $10 million, though no written report was publicly released. 

Mr. Racine’s office said it would also seek a court order to force the NFL to release a written report from Wilkinson, though the league has long maintained there was no report created in order to protect the confidentiality of those who participated involved.

Lisa Banks and Debra Katz, attorneys for at least 40 former Washington employees, said in a statement that Mr. Racine’s lawsuit “marks an important step in validating the experiences of the brave women and men who came forward and in achieving, for the first time, a level of transparency into the scope of the misconduct.” 

Megan Imbert, a former Washington employee in the team’s video department, said the lawsuit was the “moment we were waiting for” over the past two-and-a-half years when she and others first came forward to detail harassment and misconduct in the team’s workplace. 

“We’ve been seeking transparency, accountability and I think we’re finally at that point where D.C. is leading the charge there to ensure that there is transparency,” she said. 

Thursday’s press conference, billed to reporters a day earlier as a “major announcement” about the Commanders also featured four posters detailing the attorney general’s allegations of misconduct and disapproval expressed by fans. 

During the presser, Mr. Racine was asked about the notion that Thursday’s lawsuit is a political stunt as the two-term official chose not to run for re-election and will be out of office come the new year. Mr. Racine deflected those concerns, arguing that his office has commonly pursued legal action against companies who violate the city’s consumer protection laws.

Mr. Racine said he was confident that the investigation would continue even once Brian Schwalb, a fellow Democrat, takes over in January as D.C. attorney general. 

The lawsuit, he said, would also continue regardless of whether Mr. Snyder sells the Commanders. Last week, the team confirmed the Snyders had hired an investment bank to explore “potential transactions” that include a possible sale of the franchise.

“If he sells the team, he’s still a defendant,” Mr. Racine said of Mr. Snyder. “The conduct at issue is over a time period where there was no owner and the way the law works is that legal wrongs committed during a period of time need to be vindicated regardless of whether there’s a sale of the franchise. … There will be accountability.”

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

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