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NFL fines former Panthers owner Jerry Richardson $2.75 million over workplace misconduct

Jerry Richardson is being fined by the NFL. (Bob Leverone/Associated Press)
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Jerry Richardson, the former owner of the Carolina Panthers, was fined $2.75 million by the NFL after accusations of workplace misconduct made by former Panthers employees were substantiated by a months-long independent investigation.

The investigation, led by former Securities and Exchange Commission chairman and U.S. attorney Mary Jo White, was prompted by a Sports Illustrated report that at least four former team employees had received significant financial settlements related to Richardson’s inappropriate workplace behavior and comments, including sexually suggestive remarks and acts. Shortly after the report appeared, Richardson announced that he would sell the team. The sale to David Tepper, for more than $2 billion, was announced in May; it will be finalized “in the next two weeks,” according to the league.

White said in a statement released by the NFL that her findings and recommendations followed “an extensive review, including interviews with club executives, current and former employees, analysis of documents, electronic records, and other sources of information.”

White concluded that the inappropriate behavior was limited to Richardson, with “no other employee alleged to have engaged in such conduct.” Her investigation covered allegations that were previously reported, “as well as similar matters that have not been the subject of public discussion,” the statement said. The investigation, the NFL added, “did not seek to confirm or reject the details of each specific allegation made regarding Mr. Richardson, [but] it did substantiate the claims that have been made, and identified no information that would either discredit the claims made or that would undermine the veracity of the employees who have made those claims.”

David Tepper is buying the Carolina Panthers. He’s nothing like an NFL owner.

The allegations previously reported in the media included three cases of sexual harassment and the use of a racial slur toward a team scout. Among other things, the SI story reported on the existence of “Jeans Day,” during which Panthers employees wore denim and Richardson asked some to “show me how you wiggle to get those jeans up.” Most employees treated Richardson’s comments as a joke, according to the story.

“It was more of a creepy old-man thing than a threat,” one said.

Several women said the inappropriate behavior by Richardson, who turns 82 next month, became more overt with time.

For example, he invited a female employee to lunch outside the building and insisted on buckling her seat belt, brushing her breasts as he reached across her, according to the magazine. “You look back, and it’s wackadoo,” one former Panthers employee told SI. “You felt preyed upon. You felt fear. You felt self-doubt. But when you’re in [that environment], everywhere you go, every family gathering, it’s, ‘Oh, you work in the NFL? That’s so cool.’ And you don’t want to lose your job.”

Although the team and its owners did not report the claims or the reported settlements to the league office, White concluded that neither the league office nor the team’s limited partners were aware of them until last December, when the first SI report appeared. The NFL also noted in its statement that, on White’s recommendation, the Panthers have instituted policies and training designed to prevent future harassment and discrimination. The statement also said that White briefed Tepper, the incoming owner, on her investigation.

Most of the money from the fine will go “to support the work of organizations dedicated to addressing race and gender-based issues in and outside of the workplace,” according to the statement. The groups include Beauty for Ashes Ministry, a Charlotte organization that helps victims of domestic violence, sexual assault and other trauma; Black Women’s Blueprint, an organization that focuses on issues of concern to black women; and Women of Color Network, an organization that focuses on helping activists respond to violence against women in communities of color. Some of the money will also be used “to fund league-wide programs” about workplace policies, according to the NFL.

The team said in a statement Thursday afternoon that it “cooperated throughout the investigation” and has taken “proactive steps to address any misconduct.” The team said it is “committed to improving all facets of our organization and fostering an environment in which all of our staff can trust they are safe and valued.” NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said in a league statement that White’s recommendations “will help ensure that our workplaces are open, inclusive and respectful.”

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