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Minnesota AG warns NFL it could face investigation of treatment of women and minority groups

(The Center Square) – Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison warned National Football League Commissioner Roger Goodell that he shares “grave concerns” with five other state attorneys general about the league’s treatment of women.

The attorneys general also said in their Wednesday letter to Goodell they may open an investigation. Along with Ellison, the attorneys general of Illinois, Massachusetts, Oregon, Washington and New York signed the letter in response to the New York Times’ February report that more than 30 former employees of the NFL said the league’s culture was demoralizing.

“We all watched in horror in 2014 when the video of Ray Rice striking, knocking out, and spitting on his fiancé was made public,” the attorneys general said. “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 said they were asked in a training on sensitivity regarding domestic violence to raise their hand if they or someone they knew had been a victim of domestic violence while some women said they had experienced unwanted touching from male bosses or were pushed out for complaining about discrimination, the attorneys general said in the letter.

“This is NOT doing better,” the attorney generals said. “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. … The N.F.L. must do better – pink jerseys are not a replacement for equal treatment and full inclusion of women in the workplace. Our offices will use the full weight of our authority to investigate and prosecute allegations of harassment, discrimination, or retaliation by employers throughout our states, including at the National Football League.”

Ellison’s Deputy Chief of Staff John Stiles told The Center Square in an emailed statement Wednesday that the number and severity of the complaints the office receives will primarily dictate whether the office will begin an investigation.

“My job as Attorney General is to help people afford their lives and live with dignity, safety, and respect,” Ellison said in a statement. “Women faces barrier to security and prosperity every day that men don’t face, and a very serious barrier is gender-based violence and intimidation in the workplace. I joined the letter to the NFL because the sport and its players are role models to millions: they need to do better and start leading instead of lagging, because safety and economic security for women means safety and economic security for everyone.” 

When The Center Square asked what it would cost Minnesota taxpayers to participate in an investigation of the NFL, should one occur, Stiles said “There is no cost to Minnesota at the moment.”

NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said in a statement to The Associated Press that the league is committed to ensuring its workplaces are “diverse, inclusive and free of 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,” he 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.”

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