- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 22, 2020

The last few months for Dan Snyder have been about trying to weather the storm. Facing corporate pressure to ditch a name many deemed racist, the Washington owner formally retired the nickname “Redskins.” He hired a slew of new, diverse executives amid the NFL’s ongoing investigation into allegations of the team’s workplace misconduct. And he’s mired deep in a nasty legal battle with co-owners who hold minority shares of his franchise.

But for Snyder, the clouds just seem to get darker and darker.

On Tuesday, the Washington Post reported that the team paid $1.6 million to a female former employee as part of a confidential settlement in 2009 after she accused Snyder of sexually harassing her.

The payment occurred in July 2009, months after the woman told the team that Snyder accosted her on a plane ride from Las Vegas to Washington in April of that year.

Snyder, the woman and three other people signed a nondisclosure agreement as part of the settlement.



Tuesday’s revelation of this settlement comes as the NFL franchise is being investigated over claims of sexual misconduct on the part of team executives. More than 40 women have come forward to say they were sexually harassed while working for the team, which opened an investigation in July to look into the claims. In late August, the NFL took over the investigation after more allegations surfaced (though the league kept Snyder’s lead investigator, attorney Beth Wilkinson, on the case).

The settlement is also relevant to Snyder’s ongoing legal battle against his three minority partners — Dwight Schar, Robert Rothman and Fred Smith — as the case has been referenced in court documents. Schar, Rothman and Smith are suing Snyder for blocking a sale of their shares of the team to a Californian-based investment group that would have paid them $900 million. Snyder, through legal filings, has accused Rothman of running a smear campaign against him.

The New York Times reported Sunday that the team launched two investigations — one internal and one by a law firm hired by the team — in 2009 to look into the accusation against Snyder. Both investigations found the allegation to be unsubstantiated, and the team fired the woman.

The New York Times added that Washington paid the woman a confidential settlement in order to prevent her from suing. 

The paper’s reporting on the settlement was part of a larger piece that revealed Snyder could gain “an even tighter hold over Washington as he’s in discussions to buy back the shares from his partners, who own roughly 40% of the team. 

But on Monday in court, the minority partners’ lawyers pushed back hard against the content of the Times article — accusing Snyder “or his agents” of leaking false information to the newspaper. 

The trio’s lawyers wrote that “there is no agreed deal, and not even a term sheet,” for Snyder to purchase the stock, adding that Snyder or his lawyers fed the paper false information to negatively portray the partners and have Snyder be seen in a better light.  “This self-serving and one-sided framing of a serious accusation of sexual misconduct against Mr. Snyder, which depicts the victim as someone who ‘lied’ and portrays the settlement solely as a payment ‘to avoid negative publicity if the woman sued,’” the minority partners’ lawyers wrote in a brief, “further confirms that Mr. Snyder or his agents are the source of the leaks of confidential information to The New York Times.”

In a court response Tuesday, Snyder said neither he nor his advisers were sources for The New York Times article. 

According to the Post, which revealed the specific amount of the payment, “neither Snyder nor the team acknowledged any wrongdoing” as part of the financial settlement. 

The NFL, meanwhile, could already be aware of the 2009 accusation against Snyder. Last month, Wilkinson and her law firm went to court after she was sued by David Donovan, Washington’s former general counsel who filed a motion to prevent Wilkinson from disclosing information related to a 2009 confidential settlement involving Donovan.

Donovan voluntarily dropped the case on Nov. 23, but on Dec. 9, after a judge previously ruled that some of documents in the case could be made public, the team’s lawyers intervened to propose redactions that would keep details of the 2009 settlement private. Public records do not show if they’re the same settlement as discussed in the partners’ lawsuit against Snyder.

In any event, the news that Washington settled a sexual harassment allegation for $1.6 million prompted a wave of new criticism of the team and of Snyder. 

Tina Tchen, president and CEO of the women’s rights group Time’s Up, called for NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell to make the findings of the league’s ongoing investigation public. Washington’s workplace culture under Snyder, she said, was “appalling and unacceptable,” crediting the “courageous former employees” who stepped forward to speak. 

“While Snyder has publicly committed to cooperating fully with the NFL investigation, in court he has made clear he will attempt to bury critical evidence through intimidation of witnesses and emergency court filings,” Tchen said in a statement. 

This is the second instance of Snyder potentially contributing to the team’s alleged workplace misconduct. In August, a former cheerleader accused Snyder of humiliating her at a charity event at the Washington Hilton in 2004 by suggesting that she join one of the owner’s male friends in an upstairs hotel suite. 

The accusation was one in a series of allegations made in a Post report in which more than 100 current and former employees told the paper the team’s workplace was one in which women were “marginalized, discriminated against and exploited.” Snyder responded by calling the piece “a hit job.”

It remains to be seen whether any of these accusations will be enough for the NFL to force Snyder to sell the team. 

Christopher Schmidt, who co-chairs the sports litigation practice at law firm Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner, told The Washington Times in August that the NFL has never forced an owner to sell and could be hesitant of doing so, even if Snyder is found to be violating the league’s by-laws.

Reached Tuesday, Schmidt said that the 2009 financial settlement likely wouldn’t be enough to oust Snyder. 

“A settlement is not an admission of guilt,” Schmidt said. “It does not prove that harassment took place alone. … Let’s await what the full investigation shows before passing judgment, one way or another. I think we just need to get more facts.

“We’re all interested in how the investigation turns out.” 

 

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