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Former Raiders coach Jon Gruden files lawsuit against NFL, Commissioner Roger Goodell

Jon Gruden is suing the NFL and Commissioner Roger Goodell. (Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP)
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Jon Gruden, the former coach of the Las Vegas Raiders, filed a lawsuit in Nevada accusing the NFL and Commissioner Roger Goodell of using leaked emails to “publicly sabotage Gruden’s career” and pressure him into resigning from his job last month.

The lawsuit, which alleges that the league and Goodell utilized “a Soviet-style character assassination” against Gruden, was filed Thursday in the Eighth Judicial District Court in Clark County, Nev.

“Through a malicious and orchestrated campaign, the NFL and Commissioner Roger Goodell sought to destroy the career and reputation of Jon Gruden, the former head coach of the Las Vegas Raiders,” Gruden’s attorneys wrote in the lawsuit, a copy of which was obtained by The Washington Post.

The NFL denied the accusations.

“The allegations are entirely meritless and the NFL will vigorously defend against these claims,” league spokesman Brian McCarthy said in a written statement.

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Gruden resigned Oct. 11 following reports that he used racist, homophobic and misogynistic language in emails over a span of approximately seven years before he agreed to return to the NFL in 2018 as the Raiders coach. The emails were sent to Bruce Allen, the former president of the Washington Football Team, and others while Gruden worked for ESPN as an NFL analyst.

The emails were gathered as part of the NFL’s investigation, overseen by attorney Beth Wilkinson, into the Washington Football Team’s workplace. The NFL previously has said that it did not publicly release any of the emails.

Tanya Snyder, the co-CEO of the Washington Football Team who has been in control of the franchise’s day-to-day operations since July, told fellow NFL owners during a league meeting last month in New York that the leaks did not originate with her or her husband, Daniel Snyder, the franchise’s principal owner, according to multiple people familiar with the situation.

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“The complaint alleges that the defendants selectively leaked Gruden’s private correspondence to the Wall Street Journal and New York Times in order to harm Gruden’s reputation and force him out of his job,” Adam Hosmer-Henner, an attorney for Gruden, said in a written statement. “There is no explanation or justification for why Gruden’s emails were the only ones made public out of the 650,000 emails collected in the NFL’s investigation of the Washington Football Team or for why the emails were held for months before being released in the middle of the Raiders’ season.”

Hosmer-Henner declined further comment.

The NFL and Goodell “attempted to create a distraction from the controversy over their handling of the Washington Football Team investigation by misusing documents from that investigation to publicly sabotage Gruden’s career,” Gruden’s lawsuit says.

Gruden’s emails disparaged, among others, Goodell and DeMaurice Smith, the executive director of the NFL Players Association.

“In contrast to the formalities of the Washington Football Team investigation, Defendants’ treatment of Gruden was a Soviet-style character assassination,” Gruden’s lawsuit says. “There was no warning and no process. Defendants held the emails for months until they were leaked to the national media in the middle of the Raiders’ season in order to cause maximum damage to Gruden.”

The NFL announced in July that the Washington Football Team would be fined $10 million and that Tanya Snyder would assume control over the franchise’s daily operations for an unspecified amount of time. The league then said that Wilkinson had not delivered a written report to the league on her findings.

Gruden’s lawsuit says that the NFL “broke its own precedent by foregoing written reports and rejecting transparency, refusing to release documents even in response to a request from Congress.” It also says that “the only information disclosed to the public was a selection of Gruden’s private and personal correspondence.”

The NFL has not budged on its refusal to release materials publicly from the investigation. Goodell reiterated that stance Oct. 26 during a two-day meeting of NFL owners in New York, stressing that the league considers it important to protect witnesses who sought “security and privacy and anonymity” to participate in Wilkinson’s investigation. The NFLPA and former employees of the Washington Football Team called for the NFL to publicly release information related to the investigation.

Last week, two Democratic members of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform called on the NFL and the Washington Football Team “to commit to complete transparency on the NFL’s handling of the [team’s] hostile workplace culture.”

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The committee had requested documents and information from the league related to the investigation by Nov. 4. The league said that it submitted responses to the panel’s questions by the deadline but continued to work through “issues of privilege and anonymity” related to the requested documents.

Gruden’s lawsuit says that it “is certainly not within Commissioner Goodell’s authority to disclose confidential information to the media or to pressure a team to fire one of its employees because that employee insulted Commissioner Goodell.”

The lawsuit calls Gruden “one of the most respected and successful coaches in the history of professional football.” It lists seven causes of action and says that it seeks “damages caused by Defendants in an amount in excess of $15,000.00 for each claim for relief” and “exemplary and punitive damages in an amount no less than three times the amount awarded to Plaintiff for compensatory damages,” plus attorney fees and costs.

McCarthy, the NFL spokesman, said last month at the time of the owners’ meetings in New York, “We have released no emails throughout this process.” Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said during an interview at those meetings that “the league, of course, didn’t leak” the emails.