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Former Washington football employees ‘deserve to be heard,’ House committee chair says

Emily Applegate will be one of six former Washington Football Team employees who will speak before a House Subcommittee on Thursday. (Celeste Sloman for The Washington Post)
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Entering the fourth month of waiting for the NFL to provide detailed findings of an investigation into sexual harassment at the league’s Washington franchise, a congressional committee will launch its own fact-finding process Thursday.

In a roundtable discussion on Capitol Hill, the House Committee on Oversight and Reform will hear from six former team employees about their experience in what the NFL concluded was a toxic workplace culture in which sexual harassment, bullying and intimidation were routine.

Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney (D-N.Y.), chairwoman of the committee, characterized the roundtable, which will be live-streamed to the public, as an opportunity for the panel and American public to hear firsthand accounts of harassment and misconduct within the team.

“Their stories deserve to be heard,” Maloney said in a telephone interview this week. “This investigation is about holding employers accountable — not just the NFL but all employers — and ensuring that employees have a safe place to work that is free from harassment and discrimination.”

Daniel Snyder pledged support for the NFL’s investigation. His actions tell a different story.

The NFL’s handling of the Washington team’s workplace complaints may serve as the basis for future legislation aimed at protecting all American workers, she said.

“The NFL is in a particularly prominent position,” Maloney said. “Its decisions, its treatment of employees and its leadership can have national implications. I believe it would be irresponsible for the committee to allow the NFL to set a precedent for workplaces across the country that they can sweep issues of sexism [or] racism, homophobia and bigotry under the rug without any accountability.”

Of particular interest to Maloney is the Washington team’s extensive use of mandatory nondisclosure agreements under Daniel Snyder’s ownership, which is expected to be cited as an example of bad corporate behavior that could inform future legislation.

Maloney, who has prioritized workplace rights and gender equity during her tenure in Congress, has co-sponsored legislation that would prohibit the use of so-called NDAs that bar employees from disclosing sexual harassment or other workplace violations of federal law.

“It is absolutely clear that the Washington Football Team used these agreements to cover up two decades of workplace misconduct, bad behavior by executives and other workers,” Maloney said.

“I think this situation is a perfect example of why we need to pass legislation in order to protect not only employees of the Washington Football Team but, I would say, all over the country.”

The Committee on Oversight and Reform is a 45-member panel with broad latitude to investigate governmental agencies and private businesses on issues it deems in the public interest. Its chair has authority to convene public hearings and can issue subpoenas to compel the production of documents and information not willingly provided. The roundtable comes just one day after the team unveiled its new Commanders name to fans, which Snyder called a “new chapter” for the franchise.

In July 2020, the Washington team hired attorney Beth Wilkinson to investigate its workplace culture following sexual-harassment allegations raised in The Washington Post. The NFL later took over supervision of Wilkinson’s probe after a second Post story detailed further allegations of improper behavior, some linked to Snyder.

In July 2021, the NFL fined the team $10 million for what it concluded was a toxic workplace culture but took no action against Snyder individually. At that time, Lisa Friel, the NFL’s special counsel for investigations, said the league did not request any written report from Wilkinson but instead heard her findings orally “due to the sensitivity of the allegations.”

Troubled by what they saw as a lack of transparency, Maloney and Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-Ill.) sent a letter to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell on Oct. 21 requesting all documents and communications related to Wilkinson’s 11-month investigation.

The NFL replied to some questions raised in the letter. It also produced voluminous documents in response, although not key documents related to Wilkinson’s findings. Goodell reiterated that Wilkinson was not asked to provide a written report and that the NFL would not share her findings publicly.

Thursday’s 10 a.m. roundtable, titled “Examining the Washington Football Team’s Toxic Workplace Culture,” will begin with statements from Maloney and Krishnamoorthi, followed by statements from former team employees, who then will take questions from panel members.

The proceedings will be available to the public via a YouTube live stream and on the House Committee on Oversight and Reform website.

The former employees scheduled to take part are Emily Applegate, a former marketing coordinator and ticket sales representative for the team; Melanie Coburn, a former marketing director for the cheerleading squad; Rachel Engleson, a former director of marketing and client relations; Ana Nunez, former coordinator of business development and client services; Brad Baker, former video production manager; and Tiffani A. Johnston, a former cheerleader and marketing manager.

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