NFL fines Richardson $2.75M for workplace misconduct

Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson walks on the field before Super Bowl 50 against the Denver Broncos at Levi's Stadium on Feb. 7, 2016.Photo: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports (file photo)

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The NFL fined Jerry Richardson $2.75 million after an investigation into workplace misconduct by the outgoing Carolina Panthers owner, commissioner Roger Goodell announced Thursday.

Goodell announced the decision following the conclusion of the investigation conducted by former U.S. Attorney and SEC Chairman Mary Jo White. Goodell appointed White to serve as the independent investigator following the public disclosure of the allegations in December.

The allegations included three cases of sexual harassment and the use of a racial slur toward an African-American team scout, initially reported in a story by Sports Illustrated. None of the employees remain with the organization.

“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.”

The NFL released White’s 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 NFL’s release detailed that the majority of Richardson’s fine be used to support the work of “organizations dedicated to addressing race and gender-based issues in and outside of the workplace.”

Richardson, 81, announced shortly after the NFL took over the investigation that he planned to sell the team. He also stepped away from the day-to-day operations, naming Tina Becker the new chief operating officer.

The sale to hedge fund billionaire David Tepper was approved at the owners meetings last month for an NFL-record $2.275 billion. The deal is expected to be finalized in the next two weeks, per reports.

Tepper was briefed about the results of the investigation by White, per the NFL.

The Panthers released the following statement after being informed by the league that it concluded its investigation:

“The Carolina Panthers recently received notice from the NFL that its investigation into workplace misconduct is complete. We cooperated throughout the investigation and have taken proactive steps to address any misconduct. While the investigation has concluded, we remain committed to improving all facets of our organization and fostering an environment in which all of our staff can trust they are safe and valued.”

Sports Illustrated initially detailed the accusations made against Richardson, including describing what happened on Friday’s “Jeans Day” when most staffers at the team offices would wear denim to work.

“The female employees knew what that meant,” the article read. “As the team’s owner, Jerry Richardson, made his rounds on the way to his spacious office, he would ask women to turn around so he could admire their backsides. Then, in his rolling Southern drawl, he’d offer comment, drawing from a store of one-liners he’d recycle each week. Among those in heaviest rotation: Show me how you wiggle to get those jeans up. I bet you had to lay down on your bed to fit into those jeans. Did you step into those jeans or did you have to jump into them?”

Richardson’s conduct was treated as something of a running office joke, according to multiple former Panthers team employees who spoke to Sports Illustrated on the condition of anonymity out of fear of retaliation.