Ex-Washington Employees Describe ‘Unavoidable' Workplace Harassment to Congress

Ex-Washington employees describe harassment to Congress originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington

Six former employees of Washington's football franchise were on Capitol Hill on Thursday to discuss their experiences with the organization where, in the words of one ex-employee, sexual harassment and misconduct were an "unavoidable rite of passage." 

Owner Daniel Snyder's influence on the recently-renamed Commanders' work environment was a major focus of a House Committee on Oversight and Reform roundtable. Tiffani Johnston, a one-time Washington cheerleader and later a marketing and events coordinator with the team, made a new allegation directly against Snyder early in the proceedings.

According to Johnston, the owner made unwanted sexual advances toward her at an unspecified work dinner when he placed his hand on her thigh under a table. Johnston said she proceeded to remove Snyder's hand from her thigh.

Johnston told the committee that later the same evening Snyder attempted to coax her into his waiting limousine before being dissuaded by a colleague who called it "a very bad idea."

Jason Friedman, who worked for Washington as vice president of sales and customer service for more than 20 years, submitted a letter to the committee that corroborated Johnston's account, according to Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney, D-N.Y., the committee chairwoman. 

"I witnessed Dan Snyder grab the arm of my coworker, Tiffani Johnston, and attempt to pull her into his limousine," Friedman wrote in the letter, according to Maloney. "I was shocked. Thankfully, Tiffani was able to quickly pull away."

Another former cheerleader, Melanie Coburn, who was also once marketing director for the team, went on to disclose another new allegation against Washington's owner. Coburn said that, during an employee trip in Colorado she was instructed to go to the basement of Snyder's Aspen, Colo. home and remain there. Coburn told the committee she later learned from someone in attendance that the upstairs group had invited prostitutes inside. 

Snyder released a statement following the roundtable's conclusion in response to the new allegations.

“I have acknowledged and apologized multiple times in the past for the misconduct which took place at the Team and the harm suffered by some of our valued employees. I apologize again today for this conduct, and fully support the people who have been victimized and have come forward to tell their stories. In response to learning about incidents like these in 2020, the Team, on its own, undertook to revamp its policies, procedures and personnel. Real change has been made and employees of the Team have confirmed the vast improvement in Team culture over the past 18 months."

The statement continued: "While past conduct at the Team was unacceptable, the allegations leveled against me personally in today’s roundtable – many of which are well over 13 years old – are outright lies. I unequivocally deny having participated in any such conduct, at any time and with respect to any person. Tanya and I will not be distracted by those with a contrary agenda from continuing with the positive personnel and cultural changes that have been made at the Team over the past 18 months, and those that we continue to make both on and off the field."

In addition to Johnston and Coburn, Emily Applegate (a former marketing coordinator), Ana Nunez (a former coordinator of business development and client service), Rachel Engleson (a former director of marketing and client relations) and Brad Baker (a former video production manager) detailed their experiences working for Washington.

Much of what they said has been previously reported previously, most notably in a series of articles in the Washington Post in 2020 and 2021, and involved not just Snyder but other former top executives in the organization.

Together, the six ex-employees want the NFL to publicize the full findings from lawyer Beth Wilkinson's months-long investigation into Washington's workplace culture, which they believe are being covered up by the league and commissioner Roger Goodell. Coburn described Goodell as "cowardly" for not releasing the report in full. The NFL has said that Wilkinson submitted her report orally and not in written form.

"Daniel Snyder should not be managing any human beings," Coburn said in the latter half of the two-hour roundtable.

In the past, Snyder has declared that he had no knowledge of any wrongdoing or misconduct around the team until the media exposed such acts. Johnston disputed that notion, labeling it "completely false."

"He was involved in everything," Johnston said. "Every minor detail, every major detail of every single day at the office."

A handful of representatives on the committee didn't agree with their cohorts' choice to spend time learning about Washington's workplace. Some expressed sympathy to the alleged victims but questioned what the committee could ultimately do.

"You know what's going to come of this hearing?" Rep. Ralph Norman, R-S.C., said. "Nothing."

Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi, D-Ill., however, promised the six employees that Thursday would be the beginning and not the end of their mission to hold Snyder, Goodell and the NFL accountable for what they say happened during their tenures with the Washington football club.

"Snyder claimed he had 'admittedly been too hands off as an owner,'" Krishnamoorthi said. "Unfortunately ... the opposite is true. Mr. Snyder was all too hands-on and not hands-off."

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