Attorneys general threaten to investigate NFL treatment of female employees

Attorneys general in six states, including New York, have told the NFL they are “seriously concerned” about allegations of workplace harassment of women and minorities and warned the league that unless it takes steps to resolve the issues, she could face a major investigation.

The chief legal officers sent a letter to Commissioner Roger Goodell on Tuesday evening outlining their concerns, which stem from a February New York Times report in which more than 30 former employees described a demoralizing culture.

The allegations included female staff members saying they were forced to watch a video showing former running back Ray Rice knocking out his then-fiancée; be asked to state publicly if they have been victims of domestic violence; and being sidelined or kicked out of their jobs if they questioned the NFL’s handling of sexual harassment issues.

“All of this is completely unacceptable and potentially illegal,” the attorneys general wrote in a letter, which was obtained by The Times, adding that they would use “the full weight of our authority to investigate and prosecute allegations of harassment, employer discrimination or retaliation in all of our states, including the National Football League.The league’s headquarters are in Manhattan and Letitia James, the New York Attorney General, was among the signatories.

The NFL did not immediately respond to request for comment.

James and the other attorneys general planned to ask victims and witnesses of discrimination in the NFL to file complaints with his office. Often, civil workplace investigations open after employees or former employees file complaints directly with attorneys general. Illinois, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Oregon and Washington State joined New York.

The letter from the attorneys general came as the NFL faces a congressional investigation into the on-the-job treatment of employees of its Washington franchise and a discrimination lawsuit brought by Brian Flores, an Afro-Latino man and former coach of the United States. Miami Dolphins, who said the league flouted its rules requiring teams to interview a wide range of candidates for coaching and general manager positions.

Flores was let go by the Miami Dolphins at the end of the 2021 season and, without a head coaching offer, was hired as an assistant defensive coach by the Pittsburgh Steelers. A pre-trial conference for his federal trial is scheduled for April 29.

Several teams vehemently denied Flores’ claims, and the NFL said it was “deeply committed to ensuring fair employment practices” and that “we will defend ourselves against these claims, which are baseless.”

A congressional committee also investigated the NFL’s handling of allegations of widespread sexual harassment at the Washington Commanders’ front office. This committee requested tens of thousands of documents from the league and held a hearing in February where former employees spoke about their experiences working for the team and presented new harassment allegations against Daniel Snyder. , the owner of Commanders.

Snyder denied the allegations, and the NFL launched an investigation into the new sexual harassment allegations. In 2021, the league concluded its year-long investigation into the original reports of harassment within the COs organization, fining the team $10 million but refusing to release all of its findings.

Last week, Goodell said there was “no time frame” to complete the league’s investigation into whether Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson violated his personal conduct policy. He was accused by 22 women of sexual misconduct in 2020, allegations that Watson denies. In March, grand juries in two Texas counties dismissed 10 criminal cases against him.

The threat to investigate working conditions at NFL headquarters is the latest attempt by James, a Democrat who in 2018 became New York’s first black woman elected attorney general, to confront businesses and employers accused of harassment. or sexual abuse.

His investigations range from high-profile probes into New York’s restaurant industry to less high-profile cases, such as a 2020 investigation into a Long Island-based construction company that his office said sexually harassed 18 former employees. .

His office investigated allegations of sexual harassment at Spotted Pig, a Manhattan restaurant that closed in January 2020, weeks after James secured a settlement from Ken Friedman, its principal owner. Friedman agreed to pay $240,000 and a share of his profits to 11 former employees who accused him of sexual harassment, retaliation and discrimination.

This investigation, which began under James’ predecessor, also looked into cases of sexual harassment by Mario Batali, the celebrity chef and former investor in the Spotted Pig.

James conducted a separate investigation into Batali and his former partner, Joe Bastianich, which found their once sprawling restaurant business violated state and city human rights laws. His office negotiated a $600,000 settlement to pay at least 20 women and men who said they were sexually harassed while working at their high-end restaurants, including Babbo, Lupa and Del Posto.

Most recently, James’ office oversaw the investigation into allegations of sexual harassment — from inappropriate comments to instances of unwanted touching — against Andrew M. Cuomo that led to his resignation as governor. His office released a devastating report in August that detailed instances in which Cuomo harassed multiple women, including current and former government employees, from an executive assistant to a female state trooper.

“I believe women, and I believe these 11 women,” James said when the report was released, adding that the state had “an obligation to protect women in the workplace.”

Luis Ferré-Sadurni contributed reporting from Albany, NY

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