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NFL fines Washington Football Team $10 million; Tanya Snyder to run operations for now

Washington Football Team owner Daniel Snyder will turn over day-to-day operations of the team to his wife, Tanya, for at least the next several months. (Jonathan Newton / The Washington Post)

The NFL has fined the Washington Football Team $10 million for fostering a workplace culture where sexual harassment, bullying and intimidation were commonplace throughout most of Daniel Snyder’s ownership, the league announced Thursday, but it declined to release a detailed investigative report or address any allegations levied by former employees against Snyder.

“The culture of the club was very toxic and fell far short of the NFL’s values,” Lisa Friel, the league’s special counsel for investigations, said during a conference call with reporters.

The NFL did not suspend Snyder but said that his wife, Tanya, named the team’s co-CEO this week, will assume responsibilities for all day-to-day team operations and represent the team at all league meetings and other league activities for at least the next several months. There was little to no sentiment among other owners throughout the process to force Snyder to sell the franchise, people familiar with the situation have said.

Lewd cheerleader videos, sexist rules: Ex-employees decry Washington’s NFL team workplace

The fine was the outcome of a lengthy league investigation overseen by prominent D.C. attorney Beth Wilkinson. The NFL will not release any detailed findings from Wilkinson’s investigation beyond a news release, Friel said. In a contrast to previous league investigations, such as its probe into a video showing former Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice assaulting his fiancee, the NFL did not request any written report from Wilkinson but instead heard her findings orally, Friel said, “due to the sensitivity of the allegations.”

The team will pay the $10 million to support organizations committed to character education, anti-bullying, healthy relationships and related topics, the NFL said. The Snyders agreed to implement 10 recommendations made by Wilkinson related to training, diversity, reporting of workplace misconduct and other issues, the league said.

“Over the past 18 months, Dan and Tanya have recognized the need for change and have undertaken important steps to make the workplace comfortable and dignified for all employees, and those changes, if sustained and built upon, should allow the club to achieve its goal of having a truly first-tier workplace,” NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said in a written statement. “I truly appreciate their commitment to fully implement each of the below ten recommendations, but the league also must ensure accountability for past deficiencies and for living up to current and future commitments.”

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Snyder, in a statement, apologized to former employees who endured harassment and abuse.

“I feel great remorse for the people who had difficult, even traumatic, experiences while working here. I’m truly sorry for that. I can’t turn back the clock, but I promise that nobody who works here will ever have that kind of experience again, at least not as long as Tanya and I are the owners of this team,” Snyder said.

Snyder and the team also must pay for Wilkinson’s investigation and related legal fees, the NFL said. One person familiar with the process said that sum will be several million dollars; another said it could approach $10 million. Snyder can attend games, according to multiple people familiar with the matter, in addition to working on new-stadium issues. But Goodell must approve Snyder’s eventual return to the team’s daily operations, those people said, although it’s unclear how the NFL intends to verify that he is not involved in those day-to-day operations in the meantime.

The $10 million fine is among the harshest penalties the league has assessed a team, but the failure to punish Snyder directly or release any detailed findings drew harsh criticism from Lisa Banks and Debra Katz, attorneys representing more than 40 former team employees.

“In response to a year-long investigation in which more than 100 witnesses were interviewed, and which we believe substantiated our clients’ allegations of pervasive harassment, misogyny and abuse at the Washington Football Team, the NFL has chosen to protect owner Dan Snyder,” Banks and Katz said in a statement. “This is truly outrageous, and is a slap in the face to the hundreds of women and former employees who came forward in good faith and at great personal risk to report a culture of abuse at all levels of the Team, including by Snyder himself.”

Wilkinson, a former federal prosecutor and partner in the D.C.-based firm Wilkinson Stekloff, began her work last July, after a Washington Post report detailed allegations of pervasive sexual harassment levied by 15 female former employees and two journalists covering the team. Those allegations were ignored and in some cases condoned by top club executives, The Post reported.

In the days leading up to publication of that story, the team abruptly parted ways with three employees accused of acting improperly with women, including Larry Michael, the club’s longtime radio voice, and Alex Santos, the team’s director of pro personnel.

Wilkinson initially was hired by Snyder and the team, but the NFL assumed oversight of the probe after a second Post report on the team’s workplace culture detailed allegations made by another 25 female former employees, with two accusations involving Snyder himself.

A former team cheerleader, Tiffany Bacon Scourby, accused Snyder of humiliating her at a charity event in 2004 by suggesting she join a close friend of his in a hotel room so they “could get to know each other better.” And a former video producer, Brad Baker, alleged that he witnessed the production of a secret, lewd video from a cheerleader calendar shoot, featuring moments of nudity. Former team executive Michael requested the video, Baker said, and said it was for Snyder.

Snyder denied both allegations, and Michael denied any knowledge of the video. The Post obtained copies of two videos, from 2008 and 2010, that match the one Baker described. While Snyder and the team initially disputed the authenticity of the videos, the team ultimately reached a confidential settlement with cheerleaders who appeared in them.

Washington Football Team settled sexual misconduct claim against Daniel Snyder for $1.6 million

In the course of her investigation, Wilkinson interviewed nearly 150 current and former employees of the club, the league said. She also turned up information relating to a $1.6 million settlement between the team and a female former employee who accused Snyder of an act of sexual misconduct on his plane in 2009, according to court records and people with knowledge of the matter.

Last November, the team’s former general counsel, Dave Donovan, sued Wilkinson in federal court in Virginia in an attempt to prevent her from sharing information relating to the settlement, according to scant details about that suit that have been made public. Donovan dropped the lawsuit weeks later, but a legal fight continues in federal court among Wilkinson, Donovan and the team over documents that could become public.

The NFL will not release any information that Wilkinson collected regarding the allegations that gave rise to the settlement, Friel said, out of concern of violating the confidentiality requests of those who agreed to be interviewed.

“Some of the specifics of allegations would’ve given away even who people were, so I think the Commissioner was extremely concerned about respecting all these people’s request for confidentiality,” Friel said.

Wilkinson did not respond to a request for comment Thursday. In the past, the NFL has released detailed reports into allegations involving the league office, as it did with the 2015 investigation by former FBI director Robert S. Mueller III into the Rice video.

Investigations into allegations raised against owners create sensitive issues for Goodell, however, who effectively answers to them. When the NFL investigated allegations against former Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson — who had reached monetary settlements with at least four female former employees because of inappropriate comments and conduct, according to reporting by Sports Illustrated — no detailed report was produced beyond a news release announcing a $2.75 million fine and a statement that a probe by former U.S. Attorney Mary Jo White “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.”

This week’s announcements of Tanya Snyder’s ascension to co-owner and the league’s fine cap a year of upheaval for the team. Last July, the team finally relented to years of criticism and dropped its former nickname, a racist slur for Native Americans. In August, the team hired Jason Wright as the first Black team president in NFL history, and he installed a new management team that was markedly more diverse than Snyder’s previous leadership regimes.

And last fall, an ugly business feud involving Snyder and three former minority team owners who were trying to sell their stake in the team spilled into federal court in Maryland. The lawsuit filed by team minority owners Robert Rothman, Frederick Smith and Dwight Schar against Snyder was ultimately resolved when a federal judge sent the dispute back to NFL arbitration.

In March, the NFL’s finance committee, a group of owners, permitted Snyder to surpass the league’s debt limit and borrow $450 million so he could buy out his former partners.