Who thinks that anti-discrimination and harassment laws don’t apply to owners of large, rich, and famous organizations? The NFL is now here to show us otherwise.
The CA and NY State Attorneys General have both launched investigations into the NFL’s work culture and have issued subpoenas of documents related to allegations of racial discrimination and sexual harassment. The probe is not focused on any specific team, but rather on the league itself.
Read on to learn more.
What brought on this probe? Apparently “a robust public record” that includes lawsuits filed by former employees, congressional hearings last year into the workplace practices of the Washington Commanders, and a 2022 New York Times article detailing allegations of gender discrimination by more than 30 former female NFL employees.
The NFL has faced investigations before, but this one is the first to focus on alleged violations in the League’s corporate office. Both the NFL and specific teams have faced sexual harassment and race discrimination complaints.
Washington Commanders, owner Dan Snyder, the NFL, and Goodell were sued by the attorney general for the District of Columbia in November for colluding to deceive fans by lying about an inquiry into “sexual misconduct and a persistently hostile work environment” within the team.
Fired Miami Dolphins coach Brian Flores sued the NFL and 3 teams alleging racist hiring practices for coaches and general managers, saying the league remains “rife with racism”.
In a lawsuit filed earlier this year, Jennifer Love, a former director for NFL Enterprises, attributed her 2022 layoff to retaliation for her complaints of “pervasive sexism” and a “boys’ club” mentality.
The NY Times in 2022 ran a story about more than 30 female former NFL employees described a sexist culture, that allegedly persisted even after promises from Commissioner Goodell after the 2014 release of a video showing Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice punching his fiance (for which one former executive alleged one of her direct reports said it was partly the fiance’s fault for “egging him on”).
The NFL has also faced an inquiry by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration into former players’ claims that teams were mishandling prescription drugs.
The NFL has itself one hot mess and it won’t get cleaned up overnight.
The NFL, of course, says it doesn’t tolerate discrimination that it is “committed to ensuring all employees of the league are respected, treated fairly, and have equitable pay and access to developmental opportunities” and that its policies “are intended not only to comply with all applicable laws but to foster a workplace free from harassment, intimidation and discrimination,”.
Uh huh. That’s the usual response of employers facing these types of allegations. Those are the right words to say, but that’s not enough. Yes, an employer has to have policies, but having policies without more is not enough. Policies are meaningless if they are not enforced. Policies are meaningless if an organization’s leadership doesn’t model the behavior it professes to expect from its employees. Policies are meaningless when a company doesn’t demonstrate commitment from the top down.
Don’t let your organization get to this point. Don’t ignore harassment/discrimination complaints. Investigate promptly. Ask the hard questions. Have the hard conversations. Make the hard decisions. Get help with all of that in order to ensure that you don’t compound the problem.
Speak with friendly local employment counsel about how to avoid this kind of mess in the first place — because, I assure you, the NFL’s situation (lawsuits, government probes, employee turnover, bad publicity, and more) was avoidable — at least it was at one time.
Are you an employer interested in proactively addressing workplace challenges and company culture? Visit my website, http://www.janetteleveylaw.com to contact me for a complimentary 20-minute consultation.
Watch my television interview on Good Morning HR with Mike Coffey on Mental Health and the ADA.
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