WASHINGTON — The Attorney General for the District of Columbia filed a civil complaint against the N.F.L., Commissioner Roger Goodell, the Washington Commanders and the team’s owner, Daniel Snyder, on Thursday, alleging that they concealed sexual harassment and abuse of former team employees over two decades.
“What we will prove in court is clear: wrongdoing and violation of D.C. residents’ consumer rights,” Karl Racine, the attorney general, said in a news conference. “They lied about what they knew and what they were going to do about it.”
The civil complaint accuses the league, Snyder and the team of colluding to deceive Washington fans “that this dysfunctional and misogynistic conduct was limited and that they were fully cooperating with an independent investigation.” Their statements about the league’s investigation misled consumers to buy tickets and merchandise supporting the team, in violation of consumer protection laws, according to the filing.
The league and the team could face financial penalties for each instance that they are found to have lied about the efforts they were making to prevent and investigate sexual harassment within the organization. Each instance dating back to July 2020, Racine said, could bring a fine of “up to $5,000.”
He suggested that the defendants could face millions of dollars in penalties.
The complaint follows a Congressional panel report released in June that found evidence that as the N.F.L. investigated Snyder’s team for widespread workplace misconduct, he directed a “shadow investigation” to interfere with and undermine its findings.
Racine said that the N.F.L., Goodell, Snyder and the Commanders systematically deceived the public about the league’s 10-month investigation, in 2020 and 2021, into the workplace culture at the team that included the sexual harassment of women employees.
“They did all of this to hide the truth, protect their images and let the profits roll,” Racine said.
He added: “We hold bad actors accountable when they cause harm. We use all the legal tools we have to uncover the truth and right wrongs.”
Racine said the lawsuit was a consumer protection lawsuit that covered any material misstatement that a merchant made that could impact consumers in the District of Columbia. It is not, he said, a civil case that might vindicate the former employees who claimed they were sexually harassed because that conduct occurred in Maryland and Virginia, where the Commanders have their stadium and team offices.