The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

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

A female employee in 2009 made a sexual misconduct claim against Washington Football Team owner Daniel Snyder, whose franchise is under investigation for its alleged culture of workplace harassment. (Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post)

The Washington Football Team paid a female former employee $1.6 million as part of a confidential settlement in 2009, according to a copy of the agreement reviewed by The Washington Post. The settlement was struck after the woman accused team owner Daniel Snyder of sexual misconduct, a person familiar with the matter said.

The alleged incident occurred on Snyder’s private plane on a flight returning from the Academy of Country Music Awards in Las Vegas, said the person, who was not authorized to discuss the matter and spoke on the condition of anonymity. In court records filed Monday as part of an ongoing feud among the team’s owners, Snyder’s business partners referenced the woman’s allegation, calling it “a serious accusation of sexual misconduct.”

The revelation of a seven-figure settlement involving Snyder comes as the NFL conducts an investigation into sexual harassment inside the organization he has owned since 1999. That investigation was launched amid multiple Post reports detailing allegations of incidents in the team’s workplace.

Key details of the agreement reviewed by The Post align with a settlement that surfaced during the NFL’s investigation, and that the team’s lawyers are fighting in federal court to keep under wraps.

Snyder and the team declined to comment or answer any questions about the settlement or allegations.

NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy declined a request for comment about whether it was aware of this settlement or any related allegations.

More than a dozen women allege sexual harassment and verbal abuse by former team employees

The female employee made “certain allegations” in April 2009, according to a copy of the agreement, and was later fired. The agreement, which was signed July 22 of that year by an attorney on behalf of Snyder and two other team executives, did not describe the nature of the allegations.

In the agreement, neither Snyder nor the team acknowledged any wrongdoing.

Though the woman had been terminated for cause, she and the team agreed that her personnel file would be changed to show that she voluntarily resigned. The team also provided the woman with a letter of recommendation, signed by Mitch Gershman, then the team’s chief operating officer, which described her as “well-respected by her colleagues here at The Washington Redskins and around the NFL” and said she “will be an asset to another organization.”

The former employee did not respond to requests for comment, and her husband declined to comment this summer. Her attorney, Brendan Sullivan, declined to comment Sunday. The Post is not identifying the woman because she is an alleged victim of sexual misconduct. Gershman did not respond to a request for comment.

Following a July report by The Post in which 15 women said they were sexually harassed while working for the team, Snyder hired D.C. attorney Beth Wilkinson to investigate. A month later, another 25 women made similar claims in another Post report, which also described lewd videos produced by the team from outtakes of cheerleader calendar shoots in 2008 and 2010.

In public statements, Snyder has denied knowledge of the existence of the lewd cheerleader videos and pledged to address problems in his team’s workplace culture.

In August, the NFL assumed oversight of Wilkinson’s probe.

She was scheduled to interview Snyder as part of the probe Nov. 18, she said in a court filing.

On Nov. 9, David Donovan, the team’s former general counsel, sued Wilkinson in an effort to stop her from disclosing information relating to a confidential settlement from 2009. Donovan dropped the case, but after a judge ruled some documents should be made public, lawyers for the team intervened to propose redactions that would keep details of the settlement private.

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

It is unclear from the scant records made public whether this is the same settlement agreement reviewed by The Post, but Sullivan, the attorney for the woman who accused Snyder of misconduct in 2009, also is involved in the case prompted by Donovan’s lawsuit. Sullivan submitted an affidavit in support of Wilkinson, court records show.

Court records in Donovan’s lawsuit describe that settlement as involving five parties, and the settlement reviewed by The Post also has five parties: the woman, Snyder, the team, Donovan and Gershman.

Donovan led the team’s investigation into the woman’s allegations that preceded the settlement The Post reviewed, according to the person familiar with the matter.

Lawyers for Wilkinson, Donovan and the team are in ongoing negotiations over redactions to documents that eventually will be made public as part of that lawsuit, according to court records.

A judge in that case has given the parties until Jan. 5 to come to an agreement. Last week, lawyers for The Post asked a judge to allow the newspaper to intervene in the case, arguing that “any redactions should be minimal,” court records show.

In court filings, Wilkinson’s lawyers have urged a judge to permit the release of documents relating to the settlement “so the public can understand what [Donovan] is trying to accomplish through this lawsuit and how it relates to the investigation writ-large.”

Donovan declined to comment. Wilkinson did not respond to requests for comment, and her attorney, Thomas Connolly, declined to comment.

The 2009 agreement reviewed by The Post was signed by Howard Shapiro, an attorney for Snyder; Gershman; and Donovan. Shapiro declined to comment.

The agreement also released from any liability the owner of the Academy of Country Music Awards, Dick Clark Productions, which was then owned by an investment group including Snyder.

In a court filing Monday, attorneys for the minority owners accused “Mr. Snyder or his agents” of being the sources of information that was the basis for a story published Saturday by the New York Times. Adam Van Grack, an attorney for minority owners Robert Rothman, Frederick W. Smith and Dwight Schar, declined to comment.

In that story, which focused on the escalating tensions between Snyder and the three owners seeking to sell their minority shares, the Times reported that in the wake of investigations by the team and an outside law firm into 2009 allegations, “The team fired the woman because it said she lied to the team’s lawyers.” The story said the financial settlement that year was reached to avoid any potential negative publicity if the woman sued Snyder. The amount of the settlement was not specified.

In a court filing Monday, the minority owners said, “This self-serving and one-sided framing of a serious accusation of sexual misconduct against Mr. Snyder, which depicts the victim as someone who ‘lied’ and portrays the settlement solely as a payment ‘to avoid negative publicity if the woman sued,’ further confirms that Mr. Snyder or his agents are the source of the leaks of confidential information.”

In a declaration submitted to the court Tuesday, Snyder denied leaking information to the Times, adding: “I also do not believe that any of my advisors, who all understand the importance to me of keeping these negotiations confidential, have leaked any such information to the press.”

Julie Tate and Alice Crites contributed to this report.