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2 states launch an investigation of the NFL over gender discrimination and harassment

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell speaks to the media on March 28 in Phoenix. The attorneys general of New York and California announced Thursday that they are investigating allegations of workplace discrimination by the pro football league.
Matt York
/
AP
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell speaks to the media on March 28 in Phoenix. The attorneys general of New York and California announced Thursday that they are investigating allegations of workplace discrimination by the pro football league.

The attorneys general of California and New York have opened a joint investigation regarding allegations of workplace discrimination at the NFL — citing lawsuits filed by employees that detail sex, racial and age bias, sexual harassment and a hostile work environment.

California Attorney General Rob Bonta and New York Attorney General Letitia James said Thursday that they have subpoenaed the NFL, which has corporate offices in both states, for documents as part of their examination into the league's workplace culture.

The two attorneys general say they are exercising their legal authority to seek information from the NFL regarding the allegations of gender pay disparities, harassment as well as gender and race discrimination.

"No person should ever have to endure harassment, discrimination, or abuse in the workplace," James said in a statement. "No matter how powerful or influential, no institution is above the law, and we will ensure the NFL is held accountable."

Bonta said in a statement that both attorneys general have concerns about the NFL's role in fostering an "extremely hostile and detrimental work environment."

"No company is too big or popular to avoid being held responsible for their actions," he added.

The NFL says it doesn't tolerate discrimination

In a statement to NPR, the NFL said it does not tolerate discrimination in any form and would fully cooperate with the investigation. However, the league called the allegations "entirely inconsistent with the NFL's values and practices."

"The NFL is committed to ensuring all employees of the league are respected, treated fairly, and have equitable pay and access to developmental opportunities," the league said.

"Our policies are intended not only to comply with all applicable laws but to foster a workplace free from harassment, intimidation and discrimination," the NFL added.

Both attorneys general cited a February 2022 investigation published in The New York Times that detailed claims of gender discrimination by more than 30 former female NFL employees.

The employees who shared their experiences with the Times say they filed complaints with the league's human resources department and were overlooked by the league — telling the newspaper they were left feeling demoralized despite promises by officials to improve the workplace culture and working conditions for women in the league.

The NFL, which has a history of lawsuits and allegations centered on employee discrimination and workplace culture, is no stranger to being in the spotlight regarding its legal troubles.

Last month, a former female NFL director filed an employee discrimination lawsuit in Los Angeles County Superior Court alleging age, sex and gender discrimination in addition to a hostile work environment.

In 2022, the House Oversight Committee launched an inquiry into allegations of workplace misconduct by the Washington Commanders owner, Dan Snyder.

The investigation concluded that the team created a "toxic work culture" for more than two decades — ignoring and downplaying the sexual misconduct by men at the top levels of the franchise.

And in February 2022, former Miami Dolphins head coach Brian Flores filed a class-action lawsuit against the NFL and three of its teams for alleged racial discrimination. Flores alleged that race was at the center of his firing, a problem that he said is endemic in the NFL.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Jonathan Franklin
Jonathan Franklin is a digital reporter on the News desk covering general assignment and breaking national news.