“Faced with public outrage over detailed and widespread allegations of sexual misconduct and a persistently hostile work environment at the Team, Defendants made a series of public statements to convince District consumers that this dysfunctional and misogynistic conduct was limited and that they were fully cooperating with an independent investigation,” the lawsuit says. “These statements were false and calculated to mislead consumers so they would continue to support the Team financially without thinking that they were supporting such misconduct.”
The lawsuit was filed in the civil division of the DC Superior Court. It alleges the team and league violated the District of Columbia Consumer Protection Procedures Act with “public misrepresentations, omissions, and ambiguities of material fact.” Racine’s office said it is seeking “financial penalties under the CPPA for every incident in which the Commanders, Mr. Snyder, the NFL, and Commissioner Goodell lied to District residents dating back to July 2020,” adding that the defendants “could face millions of dollars in penalties.”
Svrluga: The Commanders’ biggest threat, as always, is coming from inside the house
Racine’s office said it also will seek a court order to force the NFL to release the findings of a previous investigation, conducted by attorney Beth Wilkinson, into the team’s workplace.
“OAG’s thorough investigation revealed that the Commanders, the NFL, and their executives, Mr. Snyder and Commissioner Goodell, worked to prevent District residents from learning the truth and keep profiting,” Racine said in a statement. “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, Mr. Snyder waged an interference campaign to cover up years of harassment. And the NFL let him do it, betraying fans’ trust by enabling Mr. Snyder to have a say at the end of the investigation into him and the Commanders.”
The Commanders said Wednesday in a statement that Racine “appears more interested in making splashy headlines, based on offbeat legal theories, rather than doing the hard work of making the streets safe” and cited the August shooting in Washington of Brian Robinson Jr., a rookie running back for the team. Later in the evening, Commanders President Jason Wright said in a statement that the team should have kept the two issues separate.
DC attorney general plans to take action on Daniel Snyder, Commanders
The action comes as Racine prepares to leave office, and it results from an investigation started in the fall of 2021. Snyder and the Commanders are also being investigated by the NFL, the House Committee on Oversight and Reform and the office of Jason S. Miyares (R), Virginia’s attorney general.
In addition, investigators for the US attorney’s office for the Eastern District of Virginia have interviewed witnesses about allegations of financial improprieties involving the team, according to multiple people familiar with the situation. The team has denied committing financial improprieties.
Racine’s office does not have criminal enforcement authority in the matter.
Racine said his office “interviewed numerous witnesses, including former Commanders employees who experienced and witnessed harassment” and “reviewed thousands of internal documents produced by the Commanders and the NFL, including emails.”
The lawsuit says it “seeks accountability from the Washington Commanders, Snyder, the NFL, and Commissioner Goodell for public statements, ambiguities, and omissions that tended to mislead District consumers in the form of injunctive relief, civil penalties, and restitution.”
Goodell and the league have said they did not release Wilkinson’s findings because of promises of confidentiality made to witnesses. The NFL said in July 2021 that, based on those findings, the team was being fined $10 million, and Snyder’s wife, Tanya Snyder, the franchise’s co-CEO, would oversee the Commanders’ daily operations for an unspecified period.
The NFL and Goodell have said the findings of a current investigation being conducted by attorney Mary Jo White will be released publicly.
The statement Wednesday from the Commanders spokesperson said: “Less than three months ago, a 23-year-old player on our team was shot multiple times, in broad daylight. Despite the out-of-control violent crime in DC, today the Washington Commanders learned for the first time on Twitter that the DC Attorney General will be holding a press conference to ‘make a major announcement’ related to the organization tomorrow.”
That statement caught the attention of Robinson’s agent, Ryan Williams of Athletes First, who wrote Wednesday evening on Twitter: “Up until an hour ago, the Commanders handled the Brian Robinson situation with so much care, sincerity and class. And I was so grateful for all of it. Although I know that there are some great humans in that building, whoever is hiding behind this statement is not one of them.”
The Commanders responded with a statement from Wright in which he said the team’s attorneys had “legitimate frustrations” with Racine that “should have been separate and apart from referencing” the shooting.
DC police arrested two teen suspects — a 17-year-old and later a 15-year-old — in connection to the Aug. 28 shooting during an attempted robbery along the H Street commercial strip in Northeast Washington. The 17-year-old was charged as a juvenile with assault with intent to rob while armed. The 15-year-old, who was 14 at the time of the incident, is facing armed robbery charges. Police said Friday they were still searching for a third suspect who drove the two teens from the attack.
Daniel Snyder considers sale of Washington Commanders
“The Commanders have fully cooperated with the AG’s investigation for nearly a year,” the team spokesperson said in Wednesday’s earlier statement. “As recently as Monday, a lawyer for the team met with the attorney general who did not suggest at that time that he intended to take any action and, in fact, revealed fundamental misunderstandings of the underlying facts. It is unfortunate that, in his final days in office, Mr. Racine appears more interested in making splashy headlines, based on offbeat legal theories, rather than doing the hard work of making the streets safe for our citizens, including bringing to justice the people who shot one of our players.”
Because DC is not a state, adult felony prosecutions in the city are handled by the US attorney’s office rather than by the attorney general’s office.
Racine announced last year that he would not seek a third term. DC attorney Brian Schwalb was elected Tuesday to succeed him. Schwalb won a three-way race in June, with Racine’s endorsement, for the Democratic nomination and was unopposed in Tuesday’s election. The office includes more than 700 attorneys and staff members and is responsible for enforcing DC law through criminal and civil means.
As the District’s first elected attorney general, Racine’s tenure has been marked by lawsuits and actions, large and small, that lie within the confines of his office’s limited scope. Locally, Racine has gone after negligent landlords and unscrupulous businesses, with a focus on tenant and consumer protection.
But he’s taken bigger swings, too. In recent years, he has pursued cases against Facebook, Amazon, the Roman Catholic clergy in DC and President Donald Trump. He filed a federal lawsuit against the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers following the Jan. 6 insurrection and recently partnered with attorneys general in California and Illinois to block the grocery store chain Albertsons, which owns Safeway, from paying out $4 billion to shareholders ahead of a proposed merger with the grocer Kroger.
Attorneys Lisa Banks and Debra Katz, who represent more than 40 former team employees, said in a statement Wednesday: “Today’s civil complaint … is further evidence of what we’ve long known: that both the Commanders and the NFL have engaged in deception and lies designed to conceal the team’s decades of sexual harassment and abuse, which has impacted not only the victims of that abuse, but also consumers in the District of Columbia. The filing of this complaint also marks an important step in validating the experiences of the brave women and men who came forward to share their experiences and in achieving, for the first time, a level of transparency into the scope of the misconduct.”
The NFL did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The Commanders announced last week that Daniel and Tanya Snyder had hired an investment bank to “consider potential transactions” related to the franchise. The Commanders did not specify whether the Snyders are considering the sale of the entire franchise or a minority share. A team spokesperson said then, “We are exploring all options.”
Jeff Miller, the NFL’s executive vice president of communications, public affairs and policy, said Wednesday that the league is not involved in the Commanders’ sale process at this point and has no expectation as to whether Snyder will sell all or part of the franchise.
“I’d refer you to the club for information regarding any potential transaction,” Miller said during a conference call with reporters. “It’s, of course, their decision.”
Among those who have been mentioned as prospective buyers of the team are Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, who also owns The Washington Post; music mogul Jay-Z, a potential partner with Bezos in a bid; Mat Ishbia, the president and CEO of United Wholesale Mortgage who previously attempted to purchase the Denver Broncos; and media entrepreneur Byron Allen, another Broncos bidder. Actor Matthew McConaughey is exploring the possibility of joining or forming an investment group to bid, a person familiar with the situation said Monday.
Michael Brice-Saddler and Liz Clarke contributed to this report.