State attorneys general warn NFL over its treatment of female employees

The NFL could be investigated over allegations that female employees were harassed and discriminated against after six state attorneys general sent a letter to the league commissioner on Wednesday saying they had “serious concerns about these allegations.

Led by New York Attorney General Letitia James, the coalition, which includes counterparts in Illinois, Minnesota, Massachusetts, Oregon and Washington, said it was looking at a “culture of place of work too hostile to women” and “will use its full weight”. our authority to investigate and prosecute allegations of harassment, discrimination or retaliation by employers in all of our states, including the National Football League.

The letter refers to a New York Times investigation in February, when 30 former league employees alleged that they had been victims of several improper actions, including being forced to watch a 2014 video of the former runner. balloon Ray Rice knocking out and spitting on his then-fiancée. (The domestic violence charges against Rice were dropped.)

Other women described experiencing “unwanted touching from male bosses, attending parties where prostitutes were hired, being passed over for promotions based on their gender, and expelled for complaining of discrimination,” the attorneys general said in the letter to Commissioner Roger Goodell.

“All of this is completely unacceptable and potentially illegal,” they added. “The NFL needs to do better – pink jerseys are no substitute for equal treatment and full inclusion of women in the workplace.”

NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said in a statement that the league shares the Attorneys General’s “commitment to ensuring that all of our workplaces – including the league office and 32 clubs – are diverse, inclusive and free from discrimination and harassment”.

He said the league had made “great progress over the years” but “like many organizations” had “more work to do”.

Several women’s rights organizations said a toll was long overdue.

“This reprehensible behavior has been ignored for far too long,” Christian F. Nunes, president of the National Women’s Organization, said in a statement. “For decades, the NFL has made clear how much it values ​​women by responding to countless reports of domestic violence, discrimination and toxic misogyny – in the office and off the field – with performative and empty gestures. intended to divert attention from their complicity.”

Emily Martin, vice president for education and workplace justice at the nonprofit National Women’s Law Center, said a culture of harassment and discrimination “starts at the top.”

“Attorney General James’ letter suggests that the NFL has a long history of perpetuating a culture that belittles and belittles its female employees,” she said. “We are pleased to see these state attorneys general come together to further investigate and seek systemic solutions.”

The NFL faces other investigations, including a congressional probe into allegations of sexual harassment and a toxic work culture under Washington Commanders owner Daniel Snyder.

At a hearing in February, six employees testified that they had been subjected to unwanted touching and harassment by Snyder and that he had a secret “soft porn” video made of cheerleaders .

Snyder denied the allegations.

“While past conduct within the team has been unacceptable, the allegations leveled against me personally during today’s roundtable – many of which date back more than 13 years – are pure lies.” he said in a statement after the hearing. “I unequivocally deny having participated in any such conduct, at any time and with respect to any person.”

The NFL conducted a 10-month investigation led by attorney Beth Wilkinson, which ended with the league imposing sanctions. The findings have not been made public.

NFL quarterback Deshaun Watson has been charged with sexual misconduct by 22 women in 2020. A grand jury declined to indict Watson, who is facing civil lawsuits from his accusers, who allege misconduct during massages, prompting an internal NFL investigation that is ongoing.

Watson has denied any wrongdoing.

Allegations of racial discrimination have also plagued the league. Former Miami Dolphins coach Brian Flores filed a federal complaint in February alleging racial discrimination, accusing the league of living in “a bygone era” and pretending not to hire minorities. Flores alleged that the league was not following its policy of considering diverse applicants.

“We will defend these claims, which are baseless,” the NFL said in a statement.

Attorneys general have urged other possible victims of racial or gender discrimination by the NFL to come forward and have vowed to act aggressively against the league if it doesn’t “do better.”