Washington Commanders, Dan Snyder and NFL sued by D.C. attorney general, accused of lying about 'toxic culture'

The Washington, D.C., attorney general filed suit on Thursday against the Washington Commanders, accusing the troubled NFL franchise of perpetuating “a toxic culture of sexual harassment.”

The team, owner Dan Snyder, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and the league itself were named as defendants for allegedly “colluding” to keep the franchise’s poor treatment of female employees under wraps, according to District of Columbia Attorney General Karl Racine.

The lawsuit used language commonly found in consumer protection claims, accusing the defendants of lying to Washington, D.C., residents in order to protect their business.

“In order to sell expensive tickets and merchandise and maintain the team as a profitable part of the League, Defendants need the Team to inspire public confidence and fan loyalty,” according to the civil action.

“But Defendants repeatedly attempted to bolster such confidence and loyalty through artful deception to the detriment of District consumers.”

Representatives for Snyder and the Commanders could not immediately be reached by NBC News for comment.

NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy denied the allegations of the lawsuit and questioned Racine’s legal strategy of claiming consumer fraud.

“We reject the legally unsound and factually baseless allegations made today by the D.C. Attorney General against the NFL and Commissioner Goodell and will vigorously defend against those claims,” McCarthy said in a statement Thursday afternoon.

The Washington Commanders play their home games at FedEx Field in Prince George’s County, Maryland.

The team had played at Robert F. Kennedy Stadium in Washington, D.C., but its last season there was in 1996.

The lawsuit, though, insisted that District of Columbia residents were victims as the team aggressively markets its product to residents of the nation’s capital.

“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,” according to a statement by 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.” 

The NFL fined the team $10 million last year after a league probe led by Washington, D.C., attorney Beth Wilkinson uncovered a “highly unprofessional” workplace at the NFL club.

The league claimed Wilkinson’s probe had total independence and her investigators interviewed more than 150 current and former team employees.

But the new lawsuit claimed Snyder worked behind the scene to hinder Wilkinson’s probe, which has yet to be released in its entirety.

Synder allegedly sent private investigators to witness’ homes to intimidate them, “engaged in abusive litigation to prevent witness participation” and “offered additional money to former employees who had previously settled claims against Snyder,” the civil complaint said.

“I am repulsed by the conduct at issue,” Racine told reporters.

The probe ultimately didn’t hold Snyder and the team accountable, the lawsuit said.

“Taken together, District consumers were left believing that Defendants would do all they could to preserve the integrity of the Wilkinson Investigation, and that its findings would restore their trust and assuage concerns regarding continued support of the franchise,” the lawsuit said.

“In reality, the picture Defendants painted for District consumers was terribly misleading, particularly during the Investigation, while consumers continued to purchase tickets and merchandise with the understanding that a thorough, unbiased investigation was underway.”

McCarthy defended Wilkinson’s findings and the ensuing league sanctions against Snyder and the team.

“The independent investigation into workplace misconduct at the Washington Commanders was thoroughly and comprehensively conducted by Beth Wilkinson and her law firm,” McCarthy said. 

“Following the completion of the investigation, the NFL made public a summary of Ms. Wilkinson’s findings and imposed a record-setting fine against the club and its ownership.”

Racine said this team’s alleged conduct is best addressed in a civil lawsuit that he vowed would go forward even if Snyder ends up selling the franchise.

The team last week announced it had hired Bank of America “to consider potential transactions,” in a move widely seen as Snyder’s first public step toward potentially selling the famed franchise.

This is a developing story. Please check back for updates.

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