Six former employees of the Washington Commanders (Washington Football Team) joined leaders of the U.S. House of Representatives' Oversight Committee on Thursday for a roundtable discussion about workplace misconduct inside the organization. Seven months after the NFL announced the completion of its own investigation into the franchise, the roundtable unveiled both new allegations -- including claims of inappropriate behavior by team owner Daniel Snyder -- and a renewed commitment to "potential legislative solutions" focused on holding the NFL and Washington's "perpetrators of sexual harassment" accountable.
Hosted by Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney, D-N.Y., and Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi, D-Ill., the roundtable convened in the Oversight Committee's Washington, D.C., hearing room. The employees on hand included Emily Applegate, former marketing coordinator; Brad Baker, former video production manager; Melanie Coburn, former cheerleader and director of marketing; Rachel Engleson, former director of marketing and client relations; Tiffani A. Johnston, former cheerleader and marketing manager; and Ana Nunez, former coordinator of business development.
"We launched this investigation because the NFL has not been transparent about the workplace misconduct issues it uncovered within [Washington]," said Krishnamoorthi in a statement that preceded testimony from the ex-staffers. "These victims are bravely coming forward with their stories, sharing details of despicable abuse in their workplace. ... Our investigation will continue until the perpetrators of sexual harassment are held accountable."
CBS Sports obtained the opening statements from all six former staffers. They detail alleged misconduct the Oversight Committee's chairman and chairwoman believe the NFL "covered up" before its investigation into the team.
Applegate, who alleged she was harassed on a daily basis by the team's former chief marketing officer, explained that she was "told not to speak to Dan Snyder or to even look at Dan Snyder" amid her concerns about misconduct. Baker, who spent two years on the team's video production staff, alleged that he and others were "told to edit together lewd footage" from the cheerleaders' "Beauties on the Beach" calendar shoot documentary "at the request of Daniel Snyder" -- footage in which the cheerleaders' "breasts and pubic areas were exposed".
Coburn corroborated Baker's allegation. She said the video was "secretly made" as "essentially a soft-porn video, soundtracked to Dan Snyder's favorite bands." Coburn also alleged, soon after starting her marketing role, she was invited to sleep at Snyder's home in Aspen, Colorado, after a drunken "awards trip" dinner -- except she was asked to stay in the basement "because the men had invited prostitutes back".
In 2021, as allegations were surfacing, Coburn said Snyder had private investigators sent to dozens of former cheerleaders' homes. She also alleged he offered money in exchange for public silence about misconduct, as the The Washington Post previously reported.
Coburn said she was also harassed by a football player -- presumably a member of the team -- in 2005. After informing a human resources staffer, she was allegedly told, "I'm sorry that this is happening. ... If it's gonna be him or you, it's gonna be you." She told committee members in follow-up questioning that her goal from sharing the information is "natural accountability".
"Daniel Snyder should not be managing any human beings," Coburn said. "He needs to be held accountable for his actions."
Johnston, who spent eight years working for the team, alleged she was "strategically" seated by Snyder at a work dinner so he could put "his hand on the middle of my thigh until I physically removed it". She said this was done purposely and without consent as he touched her in a sexual manner. Johnston also alleged that Snyder "aggressively pushed" her toward his limo later that night before his attorney intervened, advising him not to engage the "very bad idea". Jason Friedman, Johnston's former boss, said in a letter to Maloney that he witnessed Snyder try to grab Johnston and push her to his limo.
"That rot started at the top, with team owner Daniel Snyder, and it trickled down," Krishnamoorthi said at the hearing. "Mr. Snyder claimed ... that he was 'unaware of these allegations' and was simply 'hands-off as an owner.' Unfortunately, nothing could be further from the truth. And [NFL commissioner] Mr. [Roger] Goodell has engaged in troubling behavior as well. Goodell claimed in 2014 to embrace a 'higher standard' for the NFL ... [but] the NFL deep-sixed the findings from its own investigations of the Washington Football Team."
The NFL issued a statement regarding Johnston's allegations.
"The NFL is reviewing and will consider Ms. Johnston's allegations as we would any other new allegations regarding workplace misconduct at the Washington Commanders. We will determine any further action as appropriate. Today's testimony underscores that all employees deserve a workplace that is free from harassment of any kind and where they feel safe reporting misconduct."
In response to these allegations, Snyder issued the following statement via his PR representative:
"I have acknowledged and apologized multiple times in the past for the misconduct which took place at the Team and the harm suffered by some of our valued employees. I apologize again today for this conduct, and fully support the people who have been victimized and have come forward to tell their stories. In response to learning about incidents like these in 2020, the Team, on its own, undertook to revamp its policies, procedures and personnel. Real change has been made and employees of the Team have confirmed the vast improvement in Team culture over the past 18 months.
"While past conduct at the Team was unacceptable, the allegations leveled against me personally in today's roundtable – many of which are well over 13 years old – are outright lies. I unequivocally deny having participated in any such conduct, at any time and with respect to any person. Tanya and I will not be distracted by those with a contrary agenda from continuing with the positive personnel and cultural changes that have been made at the Team over the past 18 months, and those that we continue to make both on and off the field."
Despite Snyder's outright denials, the Commanders announced Wednesday that they hired an independent investigative team from Pallas Global Group LLC to look into the claims made by Johnston, as The Washington Post's Nicki Jhabvala reported. The legal team will be led by Debra Yang, a partner at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, LLP in Los Angeles who was previously its chair of the White Collar Defense and Investigations Practice Group.
"The Team is committed to a thorough and independent investigation of Ms. Johnston's allegation, and pledges full cooperation with the investigation," the franchise said in a statement. "At the conclusion of the investigation, Ms. Yang will report her findings to Pallas Global Group, and those findings will be released to the public."
Responding to reports of the independent investigation being conducted by the team, however, the NFL released a statement of its own. "Last week, the League stated that we will review and consider Ms. Johnston's allegations as we would any others regarding workplace conduct at the Washington Commanders. The League, not the team, will conduct an independent investigation and will be retaining an investigator to determine the facts shortly."
It was not immediately known whether that statement should be interpreted to mean that there will be two independent investigations, or if it means the one commissioned by Washington will instead not happen.
The NFL first launched an investigation into Washington after a July 2020 report by the Post detailed accounts from 15 former female employees alleging sexual harassment by various staffers over the course of 18 years. Snyder initially vowed to conduct his own investigation into the workplace culture before the league took over in the wake of a follow-up Post report listing Snyder as the overseer of an "organization in which women say they have been marginalized, discriminated against and exploited".
A year later, in July 2021, the NFL cited undisclosed findings from independent investigator Beth Wilkinson in fining Washington $10 million for a "highly unprofessional" work environment. Snyder formally stepped back from his day-to-day duties as team owner with his wife, Tanya, taking over as CEO.
In October 2021, however, the Oversight Committee -- the House of Representatives' main investigative arm -- contacted NFL commissioner Roger Goodell to request all documents and findings related to the Washington investigation. This came in the wake of additional reports that leaked discriminatory emails exchanged with former team staffers and led to the resignation of then-Raiders coach Jon Gruden. Attorneys for 40 different former Washington employees called on the NFL to fully disclose the 650,000+ emails that were examined as part of the investigation, but the NFL declined for confidentiality reasons.