Attorneys General to Investigate the N.F.L.’s Treatment of Female Employees
The attorneys general of New York and California opened a joint investigation into allegations of workplace discrimination and pay inequities at the N.F.L. offices in both states in response to a report in The New York Times in February 2022 on the treatment of women who work for the league.
The announcement by Letitia James of New York and Rob Bonta of California comes a year after The Times interviewed more than 30 current and former N.F.L. employees who described a stifling and demoralizing corporate culture that drove some women to quit in frustration and which left many feeling brushed aside.
“No matter how powerful or influential, no institution is above the law, and we will ensure the N.F.L. is held accountable,” James said in a statement.
Bonta added: “We have serious concerns about the N.F.L.’s role in creating an extremely hostile and detrimental work environment.”
The attorneys general, who issued subpoenas to the N.F.L. for relevant information regarding its handling of the claims, said the league had not taken sufficient steps to prevent discrimination and retaliation in the workplace. There is no time limit on the length of the investigation.
The league said Thursday that it intended to “fully cooperate with the attorneys general,” adding in a statement that “these allegations are entirely inconsistent with the N.F.L.’s values and practices” and that it does not “tolerate discrimination in any form.”
“Our policies are intended not only to comply with all applicable laws but to foster a workplace free from harassment, intimidation and discrimination,” the statement said.
The women’s allegations had prompted the attorneys general from six states in April 2022 to encourage the N.F.L. to address these and other workplace problems or face a formal investigation. The attorneys general, led by James, also asked victims and witnesses of discrimination at the N.F.L. to file complaints with their offices.
The league said it wrote to James and other attorneys general on May 18, 2022, to outline its policies and practices, but did not receive a response before Thursday’s announcement.
About 1,100 people work for the N.F.L. at its offices in New York, New Jersey and California. According to a league spokesman, 37 percent are women and 30 percent are people of color. The league has put more effort into diversifying its hiring and has mandatory antiracism training and an anonymous hotline — called Protect the Shield — for employees’ concerns.
But women who work there have said problems persist. One, a high-ranking executive whose job was eliminated in March 2022 and left the league, filed an age and gender discrimination case in April against N.F.L. Enterprises and N.F.L. Properties — two business divisions of the league — as well as several executives.
That case was brought by Jennifer Love, who helped create NFL Network and rose over 19 years to become the first female vice president at the N.F.L. Media Group. Love claimed the league’s human resources department never addressed her complaints about “pervasive sexism in the workplace and that the N.F.L. had a ‘boys club’ mentality.” She told human resources and her managers that several top male executives were openly hostile to her and men with lesser experience were repeatedly promoted above her.
According to her complaint, filed in Los Angeles Superior Court, one of those executives, Mark Quenzel, told Love in March 2022 that her job was being eliminated.
The Times reported that Quenzel, NFL Network’s senior vice president and head of content, was accused of pushing a female colleague at a rehearsal before the Super Bowl in 2020 and faced discipline from the league that included being forced to take an anger management course. A league spokesman, speaking on behalf of Quenzel and the league last year, denied the claim and insisted Quenzel did not push her.
Last year, the N.F.L.’s workplace culture came under renewed scrutiny because of a discrimination lawsuit filed by Brian Flores, the Afro Latino former coach of the Miami Dolphins. He claimed that the league flouted its rules requiring teams to interview a diverse range of candidates for the head coach and general manager positions.
Flores was fired by the Dolphins at the end of the 2021 season and, with no head coaching offers, was hired as an assistant defensive coach by the Pittsburgh Steelers. He is now the defensive coordinator for the Minnesota Vikings.
A federal judge in New York ruled in March that Flores’s claims of discrimination against the league were not subject to private arbitration, as the league had sought, opening a path for a public airing of his grievances.
Several teams have vociferously denied Flores’s claims, and the N.F.L. said last year that it was “deeply committed to ensuring equitable employment practices” and that “we will defend against these claims, which are without merit.”
A congressional committee also investigated the N.F.L.’s handling of claims of widespread sexual harassment in the front office of the Washington Commanders. That committee requested tens of thousands of documents from the league and held a hearing in February 2022 in which former employees spoke about their experiences working for the team. Two women made new allegations of harassment that directly implicated Daniel Snyder, the Commanders’ owner.
Snyder has denied the allegations, and the N.F.L. opened a second investigation into the more recent claims.
Congress’s investigation sought information from the N.F.L.’s initial yearlong inquiry into the harassment reports made against the Commanders organization, which concluded with the league in July 2021 fining the team $10 million but declining to make its full findings public. Snyder also agreed to cede day-to-day operations of the team to his wife, Tanya, for a year.
Last December, the House Committee on Oversight and Reform issued a 79-page report which concluded that Snyder, aided by N.F.L. Commissioner Roger Goodell, suppressed evidence that Snyder and team executives sexually harassed women who worked at the team over two decades.
Last month, Snyder reached an agreement in principle to sell the team for $6 billion.