House Oversight and Reform Committee Chair Carolyn Maloney introduced legislation Friday aimed at preventing the use of non-disclosure agreements for sexual harassment cases and limiting misuse of employee images, in direct response to the panel’s months-long probe into the Washington Commanders’ workplace misconduct scandal.
The powerful New York Democrat announced her two bills ahead of next week’s committee hearing in which National Football League Commissioner Roger Goodell is expected to testify. The commissioner confirmed his participation Wednesday, while Commanders owner Dan Snyder declined the invitation.
Ms. Maloney said in a statement that she introduced the legislation because the NFL and the Commanders “failed to adhere to a higher standard” for their employees.
“Our investigation has revealed significant gaps in existing federal law that allow employers to use legal agreements to prevent employees from speaking out about unlawful behavior in their workplace and allow executives to use professional images for lewd and inappropriate purposes,” Maloney said. “The two bills introduced today would establish standards for employers to protect workers and encourage them to foster workplace cultures that aim to prevent — rather than conceal — workplace misconduct.
“I strongly believe that those responsible for the culture of harassment and abuse at the Washington Commanders must be held accountable, and that as lawmakers, we must use our legislative powers to protect other employees from this serious misconduct.”
In the summer of 2020, 40 women said they witnessed or experienced sexual harassment while working for the Burgundy and Gold. Their allegations prompted the NFL to investigate the claims, though the league’s handling of the matter came under fire as it failed to produce a written report of the findings. In July 2021, the league fined the Commanders, then known as the Washington Football Team, $10 million and said Mr. Snyder would be voluntarily ceding day-to-day control of the team to his wife and other top executives for several months.
Months later, House Democrats on the Oversight committee launched their own probe into the matter based upon renewed scrutiny of the league’s investigation into the Commanders. Since then, the committee has unearthed new allegations regarding the Comanders’ workplace misconduct.
Former employee Tiffani Johnston told lawmakers that Mr. Snyder made an unwanted advance toward her at a work dinner, while longtime franchise employee Jason Friedman accused the team of multiple financial improprieties. Mr. Snyder and the team strongly denied the allegations, but the claims sparked several new probes.
On Friday, Ms. Maloney introduced the “Accountability for Workplace Misconduct Act” — a bill aimed at prohibiting employers from using NDAs and non-disparagement agreements to “limit, prevent or interfere with an employee’s ability to disclose harassment, discrimination or retaliation to government agencies or Congress,” according to the committee. The bill would also implement uniform requirements for employers’ handling of workplace investigations and aims to improve “awareness and transparency of the process” for employees.
The second bill — The Professional Images Protection Act — seeks to prevent employers from abusing employee images and “ensure that employees have a say in how and when their images are used for business purposes.” The bill stems from instances in which former Washington Senior Vice President Larry Michael asked for lewd videos that team employees secretly produced from outtakes of swimsuit calendar shoots. The videos, reportedly done without the cheerleaders’ knowledge, contained scantily dressed and sometimes naked cheerleaders set to classic rock music.
Former cheerleader Melanie Coburn told the committee that the videos were done at the behest of Mr. Snyder. Mr. Snyder and Mr. Michael have denied the allegations and the existence of the videos, which were reportedly seen by The Washington Post. The team settled a lawsuit related to the videos in February 2021.
Ms. Maloney’s bill would require employers to obtain consent for an employer to use their image and would be “prohibited from collecting, disseminating, or using professional images for illegitimate purposes.” Employers would be subject to fines if found in violation of the policy.
The House Oversight and Reform Committee’s hearing is set for Wednesday at 10 a.m. Mr. Snyder, through an attorney, declined the non-mandatory invitation, citing a prior “Commanders-related” business obligation and disagreements over the details of the hearing.