WASHINGTON, D.C. – Attorney General Karl A. Racine today announced a new lawsuit against the Washington Commanders, team owner Dan Snyder, the National Football League (NFL), and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell for colluding to deceive District residents—Commanders’ core fans—about an investigation into toxic workplace culture and allegations of sexual assault to maintain a strong fanbase and increase profits.
“The Commanders and Dan Snyder lied to DC residents about what they knew about a toxic culture of sexual harassment and then they entered into a secret agreement with the NFL and Commissioner Goodell that kept the truth from DC residents—all in an effort to protect their profits,” said AG Racine. “In DC, you can’t lie to consumers to enrich yourself and get away with it. That’s what this lawsuit is about: standing up for DC residents who were deceived and misled. No one—not even Mr. Snyder—is above the law.”
After years of public reporting and outcry in response to sexual assault and workplace abuse allegations against Washington Commanders executives, including team owner Dan Snyder, the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) took action and launched its own investigation in the fall of 2021 into the Commanders’ and the NFL’s response to allegations of sexual harassment. During the investigation, OAG interviewed numerous witnesses, including former Commanders employees who experienced and witnessed harassment. OAG also reviewed thousands of internal documents produced by the Commanders and the NFL, including emails.
OAG’s thorough investigation revealed that the Commanders, the NFL, and their executives, Snyder and Goodell, worked to prevent District residents from learning the truth and keep profiting. They publicly promised to fully cooperate with an independent investigation into the toxic work environment and sexual harassment within the Commanders organization and promised results the fans could trust. But behind the scenes, Snyder waged an interference campaign to cover up years of harassment. And the NFL let him do it, betraying fans’ trust by enabling Snyder to have a say at the end of the investigation into him and the Commanders.
Specifically, after the NFL took over the investigation from the Commanders to publicly help ensure it was independent, the Commanders and the NFL entered into an agreement that the public knew nothing about. The agreement declared they had a joint interest in the investigation and gave Snyder and the Commanders the ability to block the public release of any information he chose, including the investigation’s ultimate findings. Throughout the investigation, Snyder actively sought to interfere with it, including intimidating and suppressing witnesses. Then, the NFL chose to shield the results of the investigation from the public.
In the end, their goal was to keep raking in profits from District fans. The Commanders are valued at $5.6 billion and the NFL is a roughly $18 billion industry. The Commanders and the NFL make money off of fans’ ticket sales, and purchases of merchandise and entertainment that is targeted to DC residents.
The District’s Consumer Protection Procedures Act (CPPA) prohibits unfair and deceptive trade practices. OAG has broad authority under the CPPA to hold accountable any company or any head of a company if they mislead or lie to District consumers, regardless of where they are located. The Washington Commanders actively view District consumers as their fanbase, as evidenced by marketing campaigns to align the team with the city, including selling jerseys with the District of Columbia flag on it and other merchandise with “D.C.” clearly visible.
OAG has a strong track record of holding companies and heads of companies accountable for deceiving consumers. For example, OAG sued ghost gun manufacturer, Polymer80, for illegally and falsely advertising to DC consumers that its firearms were legal in DC, when they were not, and secured a $4 million judgement. When Equity Residential Management, a property management company, deceptively advertised a monthly rent that included a discount that was never disclosed, OAG sued and secured a $2 million judgment after trial. OAG sued Instacart for deceptively framing “service fees” as if they were tips going to workers, when in fact they were largely retained by the company and secured a $2.54 million settlement.
OAG’s lawsuit seeks to hold accountable the Commanders, Snyder, the NFL, and Goodell for violating the CPPA by lying to the public and District fans and withholding critical information in two main ways:
- The Commanders, Snyder, the NFL, and Goodell misled fans about what was being done to address decades of sexual harassment and toxicity in the Commanders organization. Publicly, they promised full cooperation with an independent investigation, and they promised results the fans could trust. Behind the scenes, they interfered with and suppressed the results of the investigation. While the investigation was ongoing, Snyder and the Commanders intimidated witnesses by sending private investigators to their homes. The NFL knew of this behavior and nevertheless entered into a “Common Interest Agreement” with the team that provided Snyder even greater access to witnesses and the investigative team, further frustrating the effort to uncover the truth. Their actions aimed to deceive fans so they would continue to purchase tickets, merchandise, and entertainment, and continue to increase profits for Snyder, the Commanders, and the NFL while also evading accountability.
- Snyder and the Commanders lied to consumers when they denied knowing anything about the long-standing hostile work environment and culture of sexual harassment. In fact, Snyder was not only aware of the toxic culture within his organization—he encouraged it. The evidence shows that the organization’s toxic culture was created at the top, with Snyder at the center of much of the misconduct: he had already settled multiple sexual harassment claims by employees, he ordered the creation of voyeuristic videos of partially nude cheerleaders, and he settled an allegation that he personally sexually assaulted a team employee.
With this lawsuit, OAG is seeking:
- Financial penalties under the CPPA for every incident in which the Commanders, Snyder, the NFL, and Goodell lied to District residents dating back to July 2020. The defendants could face millions of dollars in penalties.
- A Court order forcing the NFL to release the findings from attorney Beth Wilkinson’s 10-month independent investigation into the Commanders’ workplace culture, to give the fans and the public the truth and information they expected.
This case is being handled by Civil Rights Section Chief Alicia M. Lendon, Office of Consumer Protection Director Adam R. Teitelbaum, Assistant Attorneys General Andrew Mendrala, Tony Towns, Samantha Miyahara Hall, Jessica Feinberg, and Nicole Hill, Investigator Ashley Norman, and Paralegal Specialist Gustavo Diaz.