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Redskins hire prominent attorney to review misconduct allegations

Beth Wilkinson, founder and partner of Wilkinson Walsh LLP, who was recently hired by the Washington Redskins to conduct an "independent review of the team’s culture, policies and allegations of workplace misconduct." (Victor J. Blue/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Dan Snyder, owner of the National Football League’s Washington Redskins, has hired prominent sports attorney Beth Wilkinson of the Washington, District of Columbia-based law firm Wilkinson Walsh LLP to conduct what she confirmed as an “independent review the team’s culture, policies, and allegations of workplace misconduct.”

Wilkinson did not detail her representation or those misconduct allegations further. But the move follows a series of abrupt personnel departures in recent days for the Redskins. Director of player personnel Alex Santos, assistant director Richard Mann II, and longtime team broadcaster and senior vice president Larry Michael are each no longer with the team.

The Washington Post reported a few hours after confirmation of Wilkinson’s hire that 15 female former employees said they were sexually harassed during their time with the team, with the group of women detailing a toxic culture within the franchise.

In a statement, the team said it takes issues of employee conduct seriously and, “While we do not speak to specific employee situations publicly, when new allegations of conduct are brought forward that are contrary to these policies, we address them promptly.”

Santos, Mann, and Michael were each named in the Post report as being accused of harassment.

Prior sports industry clients for Wilkinson, a veteran litigator, include the National Football League, Major League Baseball, and the National Collegiate Athletic Association. 

In January, the Redskins also hired Ron Rivera is their new head coach and before even coaching a single game for team, Rivera is now taking a prominent role in aiding Snyder select a new team nickname. Snyder, facing significant pressure from the team’s corporate sponsors, announced on Monday he would retire the Redskins name, in use since 1933, and logo.

Meanwhile, a trio of junior team shareholders Robert Rothman, Dwight Schar, and Fred Smith, who collectively own about 40 per cent of the Redskins, are also seeking to sell their interests in the team. Smith is additionally the founder and chief executive of shipping giant FedEx, which holds naming rights to the Redskins’ home stadium and have particularly pressured the team to change its name, and has been close to Snyder. The trio has hired Baltimore, Maryland-based investment bankers Moag & Co. to aid in their efforts, industry sources said.

The hire of Wilkinson bears some similarity to the Carolina Panthers’ retention in 2017 of California-based law firm Quinn Emanuel Urqhart & Sullivan, LLP to investigate alleged workplace misconduct within the team. That probe ultimately substantiated claims made against then-team owner Jerry Richardson of using sexually suggestive language and racial slurs. Richardson was fined by the league and then sold the Panthers in 2018 to David Tepper.

The NFL said it in a statement that it was concerned with the allegations.

“These matters as reported are serious, disturbing, and contrary to the NFL’s values,” the league said. “Everyone in the NFL has the right to work in an environment free from any and all forms of harassment. Washington has engaged outside counsel to conduct a thorough investigation into these allegations. The club has pledge that it will give its full cooperation to the investigator and we expect the club and all employees to do so. We will meet with the attorneys upon the conclusion of their investigation and take any action based on the findings.”

Nearly a day later, Snyder finally responded to the Post report, backing off his usual tendency to deny or otherwise diminish negative stories about him or the team.

“The behavior described in yesterday’s Washington Post article has not place in our franchise or society,” Snyder said. “This story has strengthened my commitment to setting a new culture and standard for our team, a process that began with the hiring of Coach Rivera earlier this year. Beth Wilkinson and her firm are empowered to do a full, unbiased investigation and make any and all requisite recommendations. Upon completion of her work, we will institute new policies and procedures and strengthen our human resources infrastructure to not only avoid these issues in the future but most importantly create a team culture that is respectful and inclusive of all.”