The Carolina Panthers and owner Jerry Richardson reportedly reached settlements with four employees of the team, according to a report from L. Jon Wertheim and Viv Bernstein of SI.com, in the form of "non-disclosure and non-disparagement clauses designed to shield the owner and the organization from further liability and damaging publicity."
According to that report, the settlements essentially were given in exchange for a "vow of silence."
The report comes in the wake of the NFL taking over the investigation into Richardson, who has been accused of "sexual harassment against female employees and for directing a racial slur at an African-American employee."
The SI.com report outlined Richardson's repeated behavior during the organization's "Jeans Day" each Friday, when Richardson would routinely ask the female staffers to turn around so he could look at their behinds and would make comments such as asking them how they managed to get their jeans on if they were tight.
"No one ever said anything, at least not that I heard," a former Panthers employee told SI.com. "He was the boss. It was [viewed] more of a creepy-old-man thing than a threat."
Richardson reportedly paid special attention to the grooming of the female staffers, giving them money for manicures and writing them letters accompanied by money for the women to buy dresses or get massages. Multiple female employees told Wertheim and Bernstein that Richardson requested to "personally shave their legs."
Former female employees also said Richardson would ask for foot massages when alone with them in his office, give them back massages or open the car door for them and insist on fastening their seat belt for them, brushing their breasts with his hand as he did so.
Per the SI report, "No public documents or EEOC complaints have been found linking Richardson to workplace abuses, but a former Panthers employee tells SI that, while working for the team, she personally saw documents detailing sexual harassment claims against Richardson that were being investigated by the Panthers."
To keep these allegations quiet, however, Richardson and the Panthers reportedly paid what could be essentially considered hush money, as "Confidential settlements were reached and payments were made to complainants."
The team originally announced that it would be investigating Richardson and had hired international law firm Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan LLP to handle the matter, per David Newton of ESPN.com. Sunday, however, the NFL announced that it would be taking over that investigation and would retain its own outside counsel.
Richardson, 81, has served as the Panthers' owner since 1993, when the team joined the NFL in an expansion.
"The Carolina Panthers and Mr. Richardson take these allegations very seriously and are fully committed to a full investigation and taking appropriate steps to address and remediate any misconduct," the team said in a statement to SI.com. "The entire organization is fully committed to ensuring a safe, comfortable and diverse work environment where all individuals, regardless of sex, race, color, religion, gender, or sexual identity or orientation, are treated fairly and equally."