6 state attorneys general threaten NFL with probe over treatment of female employees

(NEW YORK) — Six state attorneys general issued a threat to the National Football League on Wednesday: protect female employees or face a potential investigation.

“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,” the attorneys general from New York, Illinois, Minnesota, Massachusetts, Oregon and Washington wrote in a letter to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. “All of this is entirely unacceptable and potentially unlawful.”

The letter was obtained by ABC News.

The letter centers on a story written by the New York Times that it said “described a workplace culture that is overtly hostile to women.”

All but one of the states have an NFL franchise and the state of New York is home to NFL headquarters.

“In New York, where the NFL is headquartered, the Office of the Attorney General has never hesitated to take action to protect employees from sexual harassment and abuse, whether they are entry-level employees of the Weinstein Company or servers and bartenders at Batali-owned restaurants,” the letter says.

In February, a congressional committee heard from former Washington Commanders employees about potential sexual harassments allegations. Tiffani Johnston, a former marketing and events coordinator for the then-Washington Redskins, was allegedly put next to owner Dan Synder at a dinner “not to discuss business, but to allow him, Dan Snyder, to place his hand on my thigh under the table.”

Snyder, in a statement reported by ESPN, apologized for past misconduct by the organization, but denied the new allegations involving himself.

The letter to Goodell says in the aftermath of the Ray Rice scandal in 2014, the NFL promised to improve the culture for women at the NFL, but it said the allegations mentioned in the New York Times account “suggest that you have not.”

Female employees told the New York Times they were “that they were held back and criticized for having an “‘aggressive tone’ — an often unfair stereotype of women, especially women of color, who try to advance in a male dominated workplace.”

“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,” the letter says. “This is NOT doing better. Anti-discrimination laws in many states, including New York, prohibit employers from subjecting domestic violence victims, as well as women and people of color, to a hostile work environment.”

In a statement, NFL spokesperson Brian McCarthy told ABC News the NFL shares the “commitment of the attorneys general to ensuring that all of our workplaces — including the league office and 32 clubs — 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 in an email. “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 and confirm that the league office and our clubs maintain a respectful workplace where all our employees, including women, have an opportunity to thrive.”

He pointed to employee training programs with RISE, GLAAD, Paradigm, The Winters Group and internal affinity groups where employees can interact, learn and support each other within smaller communities like BEN (Black Engagement Network), PIN (Parents Initiative Network) and WIN (Women’s Interactive Network), as examples.

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