NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell today announced the findings and conclusions in the investigation conducted by former U.S. Attorney and SEC Chairman Mary Jo White into allegations of workplace misconduct by Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson. The Commissioner appointed White to serve as the independent investigator following the public disclosure in December of 2017 of allegations of improper workplace conduct by Mr. Richardson.
Following those disclosures Mr. Richardson announced his intention to sell the Carolina Panthers and removed himself from day-to-day operations of the club in favor of Panthers Chief Operating Officer Tina Becker. Last month, NFL owners approved the sale of the Panthers to David Tepper. That sale is expected to close in the next two weeks.
White’s investigation, conducted over a period of several months, resulted in a detailed understanding of the scope and substance of the claims made by current and former Carolina Panthers employees. White said that, “The findings and recommendations that I have shared with the Commissioner are the product of an extensive review, including interviews with club executives, current and former employees, analysis of documents, electronic records, and other sources of information. I particularly appreciate the work of the club employees in assessing the need for enhancing the club’s workplace policies, procedures, and training and implementing appropriate changes.”
After advising that she had completed her investigation, White met with Commissioner Goodell to review her findings, as follows:
First, the review identified each of the allegations that has been publicly reported as well as similar matters that have not been the subject of public discussion.
Second, while the investigation was not limited to the matters that have been publicly reported, and did not seek to confirm or reject the details of each specific allegation made regarding Mr. Richardson, it did substantiate the claims that have been made, and identified no information that would either discredit the claims made or that would undermine the veracity of the employees who have made those claims.
Third, the improper conduct was limited to Mr. Richardson. No other employee of the Panthers is alleged to have engaged in such conduct, and the review did not discover evidence of similar conduct by other employees of the club.
Fourth, the investigation also confirmed that the Panthers and its ownership did not report the claims, or any agreements to resolve those claims, to the League Office and that neither the League Office nor the club’s limited partners were aware of these matters until they became public in December of 2017.
Based on White’s findings, the Commissioner has imposed a fine on Mr. Richardson of $2.75 million, most of which will be used to support the work of organizations dedicated to addressing race and gender-based issues in and outside of the workplace. Initial commitments have been made to the following organizations:
- Beauty for Ashes Ministry, Inc. – This Charlotte, North Carolina organization provides faith-based resources and spiritual support to survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault, and other trauma and provides training for clergy and lay leaders in these issues.
- Black Women’s Blueprint – This national organization, based in Brooklyn, New York, focuses exclusively on issues of concern to black women, and operates an Institute for Gender and Cultural Competence that delivers prevention education and intervention curricula that addresses the spectrum of discrimination and oppression that affects lives.
- Women of Color Network, Inc. – This national grassroots non-profit organization, based in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, is dedicated to building the leadership and capacity of women of color advocates and activists to respond to violence against women in communities of color through training, technical assistance, and advocacy.
A group including the NFL’s Social Responsibility advisers – Tony Porter, Jane Randel, Dr. Beth Richie, and Rita Smith – will work with League staff to recommend other recipient organizations in the coming months. A portion of this fine will also be used to fund league-wide programs to ensure state-of-the-art workplace policies, and related training.
White has also made a number of specific recommendations regarding issues of workplace conduct at the Panthers and has advised the Commissioner that the Panthers have recently developed and implemented enhanced policies, procedures, and training. For example, the club has now implemented a robust anti-harassment and discrimination policy and retained outside experts to do workplace training throughout the club. White advised the Commissioner that these steps, in conjunction with a strong and supportive ownership, should go a long way both to avoiding a recurrence of the problems that her review found to have occurred in the past and to enhance what is already for many employees a positive workplace. White recommended that the Panthers be required to report by the end of the year on the club’s ongoing work on its internal workplace policies and procedures that address claims of racial discrimination, sexual harassment and related workplace issues, and the Commissioner has adopted that recommendation.
In addition, White has made a number of recommendations of broader applicability for the League, which will be presented to the Conduct Committee for consideration in advance of the 2018 season.
Those recommendations include:
- A specific prohibition of using Non-Disclosure Agreements to limit reporting of potential violations or cooperation in League investigations under the Personal Conduct Policy.
- A specific requirement that claims of workplace misconduct issues be reported to the League Office under the Personal Conduct Policy.
- Establish a hotline or other system to allow League and club employees to report issues of workplace conduct on a confidential basis.
- Review workplace best practices and policies with owners, club counsel, and club human resource executives.
White has separately briefed incoming Panthers owner David Tepper on her investigation.
“I appreciate Mary Jo White’s careful and thorough examination of these issues, and her thoughtful recommendations to the Panthers and the entire NFL,” said Commissioner Goodell. “Her recommendations will help ensure that our workplaces are open, inclusive and respectful.”
Photo copyright: Sports Illustrated.