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Attorneys general call on NFL to address gender-discrimination claims

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The NFL on Wednesday was called on to address allegations of gender-based discrimination in the workplace.

New York Attorney General Letitia James and other attorneys general addressed a letter to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell to address the “grave concerns” of the allegations made public in a February New York Times report.

According to the Times, more than 30 former employees described a toxic workplace culture. Female staff members told the newspaper they were forced to watch the 2014 video of former Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice striking his then-girlfriend in a hotel elevator and was asked whether they have experienced or know someone who has experienced domestic violence.

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NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell speaks at a news conference, Feb. 9, 2022, in Inglewood, Calif. 

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell speaks at a news conference, Feb. 9, 2022, in Inglewood, Calif. 
(AP Photo/Morry Gash)

“We, the attorneys general of New York, Illinois, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Oregon, and Washington State, are deeply committed to enforcing federal, state, and local antidiscrimination laws that protect workers and further equality of opportunity for employees throughout our states. With 1100 employees at the N.F.L., 37% of whom are women and 30% of whom are people of color, it is imperative that you ensure that all employees are treated equally, fairly and with the dignity they deserve. 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 to Goodell read.

“We all watched in horror in 2014 when the video of Ray Rice striking, knocking out, and spitting on his fiancé was made public. In the aftermath, you promised to take gender violence seriously and improve the institutional culture for women at the N.F.L. These recent allegations suggest that you have not. 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. 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. Antidiscrimination 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 addition, female employees told the Times 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. This comment is particularly ironic coming from a manager at the N.F.L., where aggression is prized and celebrated on the field. Other women described experiencing unwanted touching from male bosses, attending parties where prostitutes were hired, being passed over for promotions based on their gender, and being pushed out for complaining about discrimination. In fact, some former female employees have since learned that there were no records of their complaints of gender discrimination.”

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The letter said the league should do better than wearing “pink jerseys” to show support for women in football.

Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul, Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison, Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey, Oregon Attorney General Ellen F. Rosenblum and Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson all added their signatures to the letter.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell answers questions from reporters at a press conference following the close of the NFL owner's meeting, Tuesday, March 29, 2022, at The Breakers resort in Palm Beach, Florida.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell answers questions from reporters at a press conference following the close of the NFL owner’s meeting, Tuesday, March 29, 2022, at The Breakers resort in Palm Beach, Florida.
(AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)

NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said in a statement to Fox News Digital the league looks forward to sharing some of the programs it has with the U.S. officials.

“We share 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. “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.”

Some of the NFL’s partnerships are with RISE, GLAAD, Paradigm and the Winters Group.

The NFL is facing some ongoing issues within the league. Brian Flores sued three teams and the NFL for alleged racial discrimination over his interview process and termination by the Miami Dolphins. The NFL and the teams have denied Flores’ claims.

New York state Attorney General Letitia James released the letter to the NFL on Wednesday.

New York state Attorney General Letitia James released the letter to the NFL on Wednesday.
(Reuters)

The league is still investigating Deshaun Watson over 22 allegations of sexual misconduct with massage therapists. The NFL said there was no timetable for their investigation to come to a close. Watson is still facing civil lawsuits in the matter as all the criminal complaints against him failed to be picked up by a grand jury.

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Additionally, the Washington Commanders have been accused of fostering a toxic workplace culture and team owner Daniel Snyder is accused of withholding ticket revenue from other teams, a claim which has been denied.