The attorney’s general of New York and five other states threatened Wednesday to investigate allegations of a toxic work environment at the National Football League, citing a recent report that the issue has only gotten worse after the 2014 Ray Rice domestic violence scandal.
In a letter joined by the state attorneys general of Illinois, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Oregon and Washington, New York AG Letitia James told NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell that she’s prepared to prosecute the hostile workplace claims in a February report from the New York Times.
In 2014, Goodell vowed to take gender-based violence seriously and improve the NFL’s culture for women following a video of then-Baltimore Ravens running back, Ray Rice, assaulting his fiancée went viral. But according to more than 20 former female league employees who spoke with the Times, the issues have persisted.
"Female employees reported that they were subjected to repeated viewings of the Rice video, with commentary by coworkers that the victim had brought the violence on herself," James wrote in the letter. "Other women reported that, in a training intended to improve sensitivity on the issue, they were asked to raise their hand to self-identify if they had been victims of domestic violence or knew someone who had. This is NOT doing better."
In addition to these hostile work environment allegations, the attorney general pointed to portions of the Times report accusing the NFL of subjecting employees to unwanted touching, passing women over for promotions and pushing out those who complained about gender-based discrimination.
James said that if true, these claims could amount to violations of federal law and statewide anti-discrimination statutes in New York — where the NFL is headquartered — as well as the laws of other states whose attorneys general signed the letter.
"All of this is entirely unacceptable and potentially unlawful," James wrote. "Our offices will use the full weight of our authority to investigate and prosecute allegations of harassment, discrimination or retaliation by employers throughout our states, including at the National Football League."
Reached for comment on the letter Wednesday, NFL spokesperson Brian McCarthy said the league "[shares] the commitment of the attorneys general to ensuring that all of our workplaces … are diverse, inclusive and free from discrimination and harassment."
"We have made great strides over the years in support of that commitment but acknowledge that we, like many organizations, have more work to do," McCarthy said. "We look forward to sharing with the attorneys general the policies, practices, protocols, education programs and partnerships we have implemented to act on this commitment."
Wednesday's letter comes amid a congressional probe into allegations of workplace misconduct at the league's Washington Commanders franchise.
Multiple female former employees accused team owner Daniel Snyder of sexual harassment at a U.S. House of Representatives roundtable in February, prompting lawmakers to seek the release of full findings from a league-led investigation by Wilkinson Stekloff LLP.
The NFL is also reckoning with allegations of racial discrimination from ex-Miami Dolphins head coach Brian Flores, who filed a bombshell proposed class action in February alleging the league and its teams systemically pass over Black applicants for top jobs.