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California, N.Y. investigate NFL over hostile work allegations

California and New York attorneys general announced Thursday they are beginning an investigation into the NFL, focusing on claims of workplace discrimination and a hostile environment more than a year after dozens of former female employees disclosed negative experiences working within the organization.

The probe will examine allegations of gender pay disparities, harassment, and gender and race discrimination in potential violation of state and federal laws, according to a joint statement released by California Atty. Gen. Rob Bonta and New York Atty. Gen. Letitia James.

The states have subpoenaed the NFL, which has offices in New York and California, for relevant information.

In an interview Thursday, Bonta said the investigation is being conducted jointly with New York because the organization has its headquarters in New York, with secondary offices in California, comprising more than 1,000 employees across both offices. He pointed to “very disturbing and concerning reports” alleging discrimination and pay inequity for women that have surfaced in investigative articles, lawsuits and congressional hearings that led to the investigation.

“Our role as attorneys general is to hold entities, corporations and institutions accountable when they violate the law, especially those who are large, powerful and popular, like the NFL,” Bonta said.

The investigation is in its early stages.

California will focus on the NFL employees who work in the Los Angeles office and seek material about the employment, pay practices and office culture, Bonta said. The attorneys general, who will work together, also have the authority to take depositions and testimony from key decision-makers involved in workplace environment, training, pay and other areas germane to the investigation.

There is no timeline for completion of the investigation, Bonta said. If the allegations are substantiated, the attorneys general will primarily be focusing on ensuring that reform and change are brought to the organization.

Brian McCarthy, chief spokesman for the NFL, said the league will cooperate with the investigation. In a statement, McCarthy called the allegations “entirely inconsistent with the NFL’s values and practices” and said the league offices offer a culture where “employees of all genders, races and backgrounds thrive.”

“The NFL is committed to ensuring all employees of the league are respected, treated fairly, and have equitable pay and access to developmental opportunities,” McCarthy said. “Our policies are intended not only to comply with all applicable laws but to foster a workplace free from harassment, intimidation and discrimination.”

“We are confident that our pay practices exceed any requirement of the law, and as many organizations do, we regularly take deliberate steps to ensure women and people of color are compensated equitably,” he said. “This includes working with third-party experts to ensure compensation decisions are not impacted by race, ethnicity, or gender, and we are proud of the results of that work.”

The states’ announcement comes more than a year after more than 30 female employees shared their experiences of working at the NFL with the New York Times in a sweeping investigation. The women, particularly women of color, claimed the organization fostered a demoralizing culture and left them feeling overlooked, leading many to leave their careers despite promises from the league to improve working conditions for women. The league denied the claims, but the reporting led James and several other attorneys general to warn the NFL last April that it could face a broad investigation if things didn’t change.

The NFL provided a written response to James and the other officials detailing policies and initiatives aimed at improving its culture, but received no additional communication from the attorneys general before Thursday’s announcement, McCarthy said.

A spokesperson for James’ office says it continued to receive allegations of workplace discrimination and a hostile work environment after receiving the NFL’s response, suggesting the issues had not been resolved.

In their joint statement Thursday, Bonta and James said the league has failed to take sufficient action. . They cited an employment discrimination lawsuit filed last month in Los Angeles County Superior Court by a former female NFL Media Group executive who alleged age and gender discrimination and a hostile work environment.

The NFL has come under increasing scrutiny over the years. In 2022, the U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Reform launched a yearlong inquiry into allegations of workplace misconduct by Washington Commanders owner Dan Snyder and team executives, which found a pattern of sexual harassment in the organization from 2006 to 2019. Snyder has denied the allegations.

Brian Flores, the terminated coach of the Miami Dolphins, filed a class-action civil complaint in 2022 claiming the NFL and its teams — specifically the New York Giants, the Dolphins and the Denver Broncos — remain “rife with racism, particularly when it comes to the hiring and retention of Black head coaches, coordinators and general managers.”

Another lawsuit filed against the NFL cited in the joint statement involved alleged race discrimination targeting a Black female employee and sexual harassment of a female wardrobe stylist. A settlement was reached in 2018.

Times staff writers Sam Farmer and J. Brady McCollough contributed to this report.

This story originally appeared on LA Times

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