Former Washington Football Team General Counsel Accused NFL Investigator of Lying During Her Investigation

On September 8, 2021, unsealed documents from a lawsuit launched in November 2020 by former Washington Football Team (WFT) General Counsel David P. Donovan against Beth Wilkinson, a litigator hired by the National Football League (NFL) to investigate sexual harassment claims at WFT, revealed that Donovan accused Wilkinson of lying to gain information concerning a confidential settlement from 2009.  Wilkinson’s investigation into misconduct by the WFT organization and owner Dan Snyder was initially launched by the WFT before the NFL took over the case in September 2020.  After Wilkinson completed her investigation in July 2021, the team received a $10 million fine for fostering a hostile workplace environment and Dan Snyder stepped away from the day-to-day operations of the team but retaining his ownership stake.

While the lawsuit against Wilkinson was voluntarily dismissed, both sides engaged in a multi-month argument over redactions to the court filings that would be released on the public docket. In Donovan’s lawsuit, the General Counsel specifically accuses Wilkinson of lying to one of the accusers that any confidentiality protections from the settlement had been waived for the NFL’s investigation. The accuser may be a former team employee who accused WFT owner Dan Snyder of sexual misconduct during a flight between Las Vegas and Washington, DC.

Wilkinson, both in public at the time and in the now-unsealed documents, denied any misconduct in her investigation, calling Donovan’s claims “ludicrous” and that the WFT has specifically instructed her to inform previous settlement parties that confidentiality protections for the settlements had been waived. Only two weeks after the lawsuit was filed, Donovan dropped his claims against Wilkinson, stating that because she had already told the NFL about the confidential settlement, his claims were moot and there was no reason to continue the suit.

The NFL’s probe into the WFT and this resulting lawsuit offer a glimpse into the challenging issues arising from the handling of confidential settlements during subsequent workplace investigations.  “A secret remains a secret until you make someone promise never to reveal it.” – Fausto Cercignani