NEW YORK — Attorneys representing more than 40 former Washington employees threatened legal action against the NFL in a letter Tuesday, demanding Commissioner Roger Goodell address whether the league violated its “very specific promise” that witness names would be kept confidential from Washington Commanders owner Dan Snyder during the league’s probe into the team’s workplace misconduct scandal.
Lisa Banks and Debra Katz wrote a letter to Goodell following an ESPN report last week that said that Snyder used investigator Beth Wilkinson’s probe as a “tip sheet” for his law firms to form an “enemies list.”
The lawyers wrote that if the allegation is true then it would be a clear violation of the league’s promise to protect the confidentiality of their clients. Wilkinson oversaw the NFL’s nearly year-long investigation in Washington’s workplace, leading the NFL to fine Washington $10 million in 2021. No written report was released upon the conclusion of the probe.
“If true, the ‘tip sheet’ allegation is not only morally reprehensible, but it also provides the basis for us to take legal action against the NFL,” Banks and Katz wrote, “which we will do given the serious harm caused to our clients by their reliance on the NFL’s promises.”
The two asked for a meeting with Goodell and added that if the commissioner doesn’t comply, then they would “move forward with formal legal action on behalf of our clients.”
The letter was sent the day that NFL owners met at a downtown Manhattan hotel for the league’s quarterly meetings. Goodell is expected to address reporters in the evening, during which he’s sure to be asked about Snyder.
Last week, ESPN published a report that said Snyder, who is dealing with multiple investigations into allegations against him and the team, claims to have “dirt” on several NFL owners and Goodell.
The Commanders dismissed the ESPN story last week and doubled down Tuesday, calling the report false and denying that Goodell or anyone connected to the Wilkinson probe kept the team apprised of developments in the investigation.
“Neither the Team nor Mr. Snyder was ever advised by the NFL, Ms. Wilkinson, or anyone else, about the progress of the investigation, or who had been interviewed in connection with it — either during the investigation or afterwards,” a Commanders spokesperson said in a statement. “Even now, the team and Mr. Snyder have not received any information from the NFL or Ms. Wilkinson on these matters. ESPN was advised of this fact before they ran their story last week, but proceeded to go forward with the story, based on their discussions with ‘unnamed sources.’ The story was false last week, and it is false today.”
The Commanders response was echoed later in the day in a similar statement from the NFL.
“We have said repeatedly that we are committed to protecting the anonymity of all witnesses who participated in the Wilkinson investigation. The NFL did not share their names with the Commanders and their lawyers. The allegation is false.
Ms. Wilkinson and her firm kept their pledge to the witnesses and did not share their identities with the Commissioner or League staff other than the limited number of participants who were willing to be identified.”
In June, the House Oversight and Reform committee — the congressional panel investigating Snyder — released a 29-page memo that found the owner conducted a “shadow investigation” in search of information to discredit his accusers and “offer up an alternative target” for the league’s probe. Snyder’s lawyers, the panel found, created a 100-page PowerPoint slide dossier that contained private emails, text messages, telephone records and social media posts as part of that effort.
The memo issued by the Democrat-controlled panel also contends that Snyder hired private investigators to look into former employees in an attempt to intimidate them and discourage them from participating in the Wilkinson investigation.
Banks and Katz said in Tuesday’s letter that several of their clients were “harassed” by those private investigators.
Attorneys for the Commanders refuted those findings, maintaining there was no shadow investigation and that the owner’s use of private investigators was a method to inform Snyder’s defamation lawsuit against an Indian-based media company that falsely linked him to pedophile Jeffrey Epstein.
John Brownlee, a Holland & Knight attorney who serves as legal counsel for the Commanders, told The Washington Times last week that the league was aware of Snyder’s use of private investigators for that case.
“Yes they had investigators, but obviously that was appropriate to use them in that context,” Brownlee said.
The two lawyers also criticized the league’s handling of the Wilkinson report, again taking issue with the NFL’s decision to not release a written report. Goodell has said that the NFL declined to do so to protect the anonymity of those who participated in the probe.
“We now have reason to believe that the NFL disclosed their names freely to Mr. Snyder during the course of that investigation,” Banks and Katz wrote. “Mr. Snyder’s attorneys have recently derided the failure of investigations to look at all evidence related to the team and the witnesses. In the interest of full disclosure, you can and should release the report prepared by Beth Wilkinson, just as you have committed to do with the Mary Jo White investigation, and redact or anonymize witness names however necessary.”
In February, the NFL launched another probe into Snyder following a new round of allegations uncovered in the committee’s investigation. The league hired former Securities and Exchange Commission chair Mary Jo White to investigate those claims, and that probe remains ongoing.
• Matthew Paras can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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