‘Trusting the law and trusting the process’ — Former employees on DC’s suit against Snyder, Goodell

The District’s consumer protection lawsuit announced Thursday aims to show Washington Commanders owner Dan Snyder and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell “repeatedly lied to and deceived” D.C. consumers about the investigation into sexual harassment of team workers.

Two women who worked for the team hope the suit will help paint a more vivid picture of what they saw as a toxic work environment.

“This is kind of the moment we’ve been waiting for,” said Megan Imbert, a former employee in the team’s broadcast department, who watched D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine’s Thursday news conference with former cheerleader Melanie Coburn. “We risked our lives, our reputations, to be a part of this, and bring truth to light.”

Racine accused the team and the league of “colluding to deceive residents of the District of Columbia about their investigation into a toxic workplace culture that impacted employees, especially women. All of that deception was done to protect their profits and their image.”

Melanie Coburn, left, and Megan Imbert, former employees of the Washington Football Team, speaking to members of the media in the parking lot of FedEx Field before the start of an NFL football game, Monday, Nov. 29, 2021, in Landover, Md. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

The attorney general added that D.C. residents “have a right to know the truth about the companies they support with their hard-earned dollars.”

“The law is on our side, and I’m just looking forward to what the future holds,” said Imbert. “This is the most significant day of the past two and a half years for me.”

In February, Coburn testified on Capitol Hill, before the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, a day after the team rolled out its new name, the Washington Commanders.

Coburn told reporters after Racine’s announcement that she was speaking out for former cheerleaders who couldn’t, because they had signed nondisclosure arrangements with the team:
“I’m here on behalf of them. They’re still traumatized. They still message me. They have to leave restaurants when certain songs come on the speakers,” said Coburn. “And that’s not OK.”

Lawyers for Dan and Tanya Snyder said in a statement Thursday afternoon:

Over two years ago, Dan and Tanya Snyder acknowledged that an unacceptable workplace culture had existed within their organization for several years and they have apologized many times for allowing that to happen. We agree with AG Racine on one thing: the public needs to know the truth. Although the lawsuit repeats a lot of innuendo, half-truths and lies, we welcome this opportunity to defend the organization — for the first time — in a court of law and to establish, once and for all, what is fact and what is fiction.

Looking back, looking ahead

“I can tell they’re committed,” said Imbert about D.C.’s Office of the Attorney General. Racine has announced his retirement — Tuesday, voters elected Brian Schwalb to succeed him. “They’re going to do what they can to really protect the consumers of DC,” she said.

After a 2020 Washington Post report of a toxic workplace, Snyder said he didn’t know about the allegations — a denial Racine called false — and the team hired Beth Wilkinson to investigate.

The NFL eventually took over the investigation. Racine said the NFL’s actions gave the impression “that they were stepping in to assume oversight” and that a full, independent investigation was going to be done.

Instead, Racine said, Snyder interfered with the investigation, sending people to contact and intimidate witnesses. The complaint also cites witnesses who said they were offered money not to talk to Wilkinson and her team — including the woman to whom Snyder paid a $1.6 million settlement in 2009 over a sexual misconduct allegation.

“All of these different investigations kind of wind up holding each other accountable,” said Imbert. “I’m very curious what Congress is going to bring forth, but from my perspective, I’m trusting the law and trusting the process as best I can — as drawn out as it might be, and painful.”

Imbert and Coburn say their experiences with the team were life-altering.

“I completely reinvented myself in another industry; I left dreams on the table,” said Imbert, envisioning past, or even current employees, who have experienced harassment in the workplace.

“This is bigger than the NFL; this is a society issue, and the NFL is a microcosm of society,” said Imbert. “So, it’s surreal to know that we’re watching history and we’re also a part of it — it kind of feels like we’re in the middle of that tornado.”

WTOP’s Rick Massimo contributed to this report.

Neal Augenstein

Neal Augenstein has been a general assignment reporter with WTOP since 1997. He says he looks forward to coming to work every day, even though that means waking up at 3:30 a.m.

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