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NFL Faces Workplace Discrimination Probes in New York and California

NFL Faces Workplace Discrimination Probes in New York and California
INGLEWOOD, CALIFORNIA - OCTOBER 03: A general view of the NFL logo on the field is seen before the game between the Arizona Cardinals and the Los Angeles Rams at SoFi Stadium on October 03, 2021 in Inglewood, California. (Photo by Katelyn Mulcahy/Getty Images)

The National Football League is being investigated by California and New York over allegations that it fostered discrimination and harassment in the workplace.

New York Attorney General Letitia James and her counterpart in California, Rob Bonta, announced on Thursday they’ve begun a joint probe of the NFL’s workplace practices and culture. The states have issued subpoenas to the league to gather information and determine whether it flouted federal and state pay equity laws and anti-discrimination laws, the attorneys general said in a statement.

“No matter how powerful or influential, no institution is above the law, and we will ensure the NFL is held accountable,” James said.

An NFL spokesperson said the allegations are “entirely inconsistent with the NFL’s values and practices.”

“The NFL offices are places where employees of all genders, races and backgrounds thrive. We do not tolerate discrimination in any form,” the spokesperson said in a statement.

James and Bonta cited a February 2022 New York Times report in which more than 30 former female NFL employees complained of gender discrimination and retaliation after they complained to human resources at the league. Last month, Jennifer Love, a former NFL director, sued the league for age and gender discrimination in Los Angeles Superior Court.

The attorneys general also pointed to the December 2022 Congressional report finding that Washington Commanders owner Dan Snyder fostered a culture of sexual harassment at the team. In November, Washington DC Attorney General Karl Racine alleged in a lawsuit that Snyder and the NFL misled the public about the league’s investigation of the matter. The team through its attorney said the suit repeated a lot of innuendo, half-truths and lies.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell testified in Congress last June that he thought the league had held Snyder accountable, saying the owner faced “unprecedented discipline” over the allegations and that the league fined the club $10 million in 2021. Goodell also said at the time that he supported legislation to limit the use of workplace nondisclosure agreements, which are sometimes use to keep misconduct allegations out of public view.

NFL Urged by States to Improve Conditions for Female Workers

Six attorneys general, including James, wrote a joint letter last year urging Goodell to improve working conditions for female employees. Attorneys general of of New York, Massachusetts, Illinois, Oregon, Washington and Minnesota told Goodell in the letter that “it is imperative that you ensure that all employees are treated equally, fairly and with the dignity they deserve.”

James had pointed to the video of former NFL running back Ray Rice brutally attacking his fiancé that was made public in 2014. Former employees have described incidents where they were repeatedly forced to watch the Rice video — while coworkers commented that the victim’s own behavior prompted the incident, according to the letter. They also said they were touched without consent by male bosses, attended parties where prostitutes were hired, and were passed over for promotions based on their gender, the attorneys general said.

In response to the letter, Goodell assured James that workplace misconduct is thoroughly investigated at the NFL and retaliation against complainants is prohibited. “Building a truly inclusive workplace is of the utmost importance to the NFL,” he wrote in April last year.

The NFL in recent years has faced other claims of workplace malfeasance, including a lawsuit filed by former Miami Dolphins head coach Brian Flores, along with two other Black coaches, alleging systemic hiring discrimination.

“We have serious concerns about the NFL’s role in creating an extremely hostile and detrimental work environment,” Bonta said.


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