Washington Football Team Fined $10M After NFL Investigation into Workplace Culture

Joseph Zucker@@JosephZuckerFeatured Columnist IVJuly 1, 2021

Washington Football Team helmets are seen on the field during an NFL football OTA at Inova Sports Performance Center in Ashburn, Va., Wednesday, June 2, 2021. (AP Photo/Luis M. Alvarez)
AP Photo/Luis M. Alvarez

The NFL fined the Washington Football Team $10 million following an investigation into the organization's workplace culture.

The league also said Tanya Snyder "will assume responsibilities for all day-to-day team operations and represent the club at all league meetings and other league activities for at least the next several months."

"Dan Snyder will concentrate on a new stadium plan and other matters."

The WFT initially solicited the services of Beth Wilkinson to lead an independent inquiry into allegations of sexual harassment, bullying and intimidation in the workplace, and the NFL retained Wilkinson upon taking charge of the investigation.

The league provided a summary of her findings:

"Based on Wilkinson's review, the Commissioner concluded that for many years the workplace environment at the Washington Football Team, both generally and particularly for women, was highly unprofessional. Bullying and intimidation frequently took place and many described the culture as one of fear, and numerous female employees reported having experienced sexual harassment and a general lack of respect in the workplace.
"Ownership and senior management paid little or no attention to these issues. In some instances, senior executives engaged in inappropriate conduct themselves, including use of demeaning language and public embarrassment.  This set the tone for the organization and led to key executives believing that disrespectful behavior and more serious misconduct was acceptable in the workplace.  The problems were compounded by inadequate HR staff and practices and the absence of an effectively and consistently administered process for reporting or addressing employee complaints, as well as a widely reported fear of retaliation.  When reports were made, they were generally not investigated and led to no meaningful discipline or other response."

The NFL provided more context about the investigation during a conference call after the announcement:

John Keim @john_keim

They wanted to keep it confidential, which is why they said they chose this route. Also: Wilkinson's job was never to submit punishment recommendations, more rec's about how to improve workplace culture etc. (similar to other investigations of other teams in the past)

The Washington Football Team shared a statement from Dan Snyder:

Washington Football Team @WashingtonNFL

<a href="https://t.co/BDVxK6Gz3Q">pic.twitter.com/BDVxK6Gz3Q</a>

"I have learned a lot in the past few months about how my club operated, and the kind of workplace that we had," Snyder said. "It is now clear that the culture was not what it should be, but I did not realize the extent of the problems., or my role in allowing that culture to develop and continue. I know that as the owner, I am ultimately responsible for the workplace. I have said that and I say it again."

In July 2020, the Washington Post's Will Hobson and Liz Clarke published an investigation into the team that included information from 15 women who worked for the organization and said they had been sexually harassed or verbally abused.

The report also laid out allegations against some current and former employees, including Larry Michael and Alex Santos.

Michael, then the senior vice president of content, "routinely discussed the physical appearance of female colleagues in sexual and disparaging overtones." Santos, the director of player personnel, "was accused by six former employees and two reporters who covered the team of making inappropriate remarks about their bodies and asking them whether they were romantically interested in him."

Hobson and Clarke didn't tie Snyder directly to any allegations, but the women interviewed "expressed skepticism" about whether he and former team president Bruce Allen had no knowledge of the harassment.

A second Washington Post investigation from Hobson, Clarke, Beth Reinhard and Dalton Bennett implicated Snyder.

Brad Baker, a video producer who worked with Michael, said he was told to make a video that compiled outtakes from a WFT cheerleader photo shoot that included footage in which the women's breasts were exposed. Baker said that Michael indicated the video was intended for Snyder.

Former cheerleader director Donald Wells said former cheerleader Tiffany Bacon Scourby was "was more or less propositioned" during a 2004 charity event. Scourby recounted a conversation she had with Snyder when the owner motioned over to one of his friends. Snyder allegedly suggested she could go up to a hotel room with his friend.

Susan Miller worked at an employee referral agency in Virginia and told the Post she stopped recommending WFT as a prospective employer based on Snyder's treatment of workers.

Miller said he "denigrated people" and "treated women like servants."

Snyder responded to the allegations in August 2020 to say the "Washington Post article reads like a 'hit job' relying on unnamed sources and allegations that are largely ten to twenty years old." He added that former WFT employees were "on the record disputing many of these claims."

According to the NFL's statement, since then Snyder has "made a series of significant organizational changes based on his recognition that the club's workplace culture ... was deficient and needed to be significantly improved to enable football and other club employees to perform at their full potential." The league also said Wilkinson confirmed "several strong and positive steps" have been taken to improve the team's workplace culture.

The money from the fine will be used to "support organizations committed to character education, anti-bullying, healthy relationships and related topics" as well as to fund programs dedicated to "improving the workplace, particularly for women and other underrepresented groups, and training and development programs throughout the league."