A coalition of six attorneys general, led by New York AG Letitia James, urged the NFL to take “swift action to improve workplace conditions and protect its female employees” in a Wednesday letter to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell.
The state AGs promised to use the “full weight” of their authority to investigate and prosecute allegations of harassment, discrimination or retaliation following recently surfaced reports from female NFL employees. The letter, released by James’ office, was co-signed by the AGs of Illinois, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Oregon and Washington.
The warning comes as the NFL faces an investigation into sexual harassment allegations against a franchise owner and is under scrutiny for its lack of diversity in leadership positions.
In the letter, the AGs cite a February report from the New York Times in which more than 30 former league employees described a workplace hostile to women.
“Female employees described experiencing unwanted touching from male bosses, attending parties where prostitutes were hired, facing unfair criticism based on stereotypes, being passed over for promotions based on their gender, and being pushed out for complaining about discrimination,” the letter said, citing the report.
“In fact, some former female employees have since learned that there were no records of their complaints of gender discrimination,” the letter continued.
Roughly 37% of the 1,100 employees at the NFL are women, and 30% are people of color, the letter noted.
In a statement to CNN, the NFL said it 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.”
NFL spokesperson Brian McCarthy said the organization has “made great strides” over the years but acknowledged that it, like many organizations, “has more work to do.”
“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,” McCarthy said.
The state AGs warned the NFL to address “its seeming continued inaction” in combating these issues, adding, “if true, the NFL’s failures may violate local, state, and federal anti-discrimination laws, which prohibit employers from discriminating against women, people of color, and domestic violence victims, or subjecting them to a hostile work environment,” according to James’ release.
The letter also reminded the NFL of commitments it made to improving policies in 2015 after former Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice was caught on camera in an elevator punching his fiancée and knocking her out in 2014. “The NFL must finally make good on its promise and do better – pink jerseys are not a replacement for equal treatment and full inclusion of women in the workplace,” the release said.
The NFL is currently investigating sexual harassment allegations against Washington Commanders owner Dan Snyder.
Tiffani Johnston, a former cheerleader and marketing and events coordinator for the team, told a House Oversight Committee roundtable in February Snyder allegedly put his hand on her thigh during a dinner and aggressively pushed her toward his limousine with his hand on her lower back as she fended off his advances.
One of Snyder’s attorneys said the allegations are “false, and have been categorically denied by Mr. Snyder.”
Goodell says the league takes the allegations “very seriously.”
The state AGs’ letter also comes as the NFL and three football franchises are dealing with a lawsuit from former Miami Dolphins head coach Brian Flores, who alleges racial discrimination in the league’s hiring practices.
Flores accused the New York Giants and Denver Broncos of carrying out sham interviews in order to comply with the “Rooney Rule,” which requires NFL teams to interview at least two minority external candidates for head coaching jobs.
The NFL called Flores’ allegations meritless, saying in a statement, “diversity is core to everything we do.”
As recently as March, attorneys for Flores said the NFL is pushing for arbitration on the matter.
In late March, the NFL announced initiatives directly related to the ongoing criticism over the league’s lack of diversity in leadership positions.
The NFL created a six-member diversity advisory committee that will review the league’s hiring policies and practices with a “focus on senior-level coach and front office personnel positions.”
One new commitment is in an area that has been historically difficult for minorities to break through: All 32 clubs are now required to hire a woman or minority offensive assistant coach.
“This person will receive a one-year contract and work closely with the head coach and offensive staff to gain experience. Clubs will receive reimbursement from a league-wide fund towards the coach’s salary for up to 2 years,” the NFL said.
The league added the resolution would further the development of “the diverse offensive pipeline.”