New allegations of sexual harassment emerged Thursday about Washington Commanders team owner Daniel Snyder during a congressional roundtable investigating the team's "toxic workplace" and what some members of Congress are calling the NFL's "cover-up."
Tiffani Johnston, a former marketing and events coordinator for the team, told a congressional committee that she was "strategically" placed next to Snyder at a work dinner "not to discuss business, but to allow him, Dan Snyder, to place his hand on my thigh under the table."
"I learned that job survival meant I should continue my conversation with another co-worker rather than call out Dan Snyder right then in the moment," Johnston continued. "I also learned later that evening how to awkwardly laugh when Dan Snyder aggressively pushed me toward his limo with his hand on my lower back, encouraging me to ride with him to my car. I learned how to continue to say no even though a situation was getting more awkward, uncomfortable and physical. I learned that the only reason Dan Snyder removed his hand from my back and stopped pushing me toward his limo was because his attorney intervened and said 'Dan, Dan, this is a bad idea. A very bad idea, Dan.' I learned that I should remove myself from Dan's grip while his attorney was distracting him."
In an emailed statement from the team, Snyder apologized again for past misconduct that took place in his organization but denied 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," he said. "I apologize again today for this conduct, and fully support the people who have been victimized and have come forward to tell their stories.
"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."
An NFL spokesman told ESPN in an email, "The NFL is reviewing and will consider Ms. Johnston's allegations as we would any other new allegations regarding workplace misconduct at the Washington Commanders. We will determine any further action as appropriate."
Johnston said the incident occurred either in 2005 or 2006 at the Oceanaire restaurant in downtown Washington. A letter from Jason Friedman, another former employee, was presented at the roundtable, stating he had witnessed Snyder trying to steer Johnston into the limo.
Following the roundtable, Johnston said she had not shared the incident with Beth Wilkinson, the attorney hired to conduct the league's internal investigation, for fear of retaliation from Snyder.
Johnston explained how she and her husband decided she should now tell Congress about her experiences because the report on the NFL's internal investigation "has been brushed under the rug and there's no transparency. He and I made the decision that it was time to come forward. It was the right thing to do as difficult as it was."
In response, the NFL spokesman told ESPN, "We understand how difficult it is for anyone to come forward to tell their story and respected Ms. Johnston's decision to not participate in the investigation led by independent counsel Beth Wilkinson."
Johnston's testimony also alleged Snyder demanded that an unedited photo of Johnston wearing lingerie for a promotional calendar be altered, enlarged and sent to his office.
"I learned that this demand was made urgently because they knew that the graphic artist was getting ready to photoshop my personal areas before the edit-approve went before all of the senior VPs and Dan Snyder for approval," she said.
Johnston was one of five women who presented stories of alleged sexual harassment and discrimination to the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, which has been investigating the team since last fall.
"The NFL is now complicit in this scandal," Melanie Coburn, a former director of marketing for the team, told Congress. "Ten months, more than 120 witnesses and nothing. [NFL commissioner] Roger Goodell's claim that he was trying to protect us is outrageous and cowardly. The public optics of him caring is appalling. Goodell betrayed every woman who suffered harassment and abuse at the Washington football team."
The NFL's spokesman responded, "Today's testimony underscores that all employees deserve a workplace that is free from harassment of any kind and where they feel safe reporting misconduct."
Most of the Republicans in attendance expressed varying degrees of sympathy for the women but contended Congress shouldn't be in the business of investigating a private company. Many Republicans stated the women's stories are the purview of human resources departments or the court system, not Congress.
"The witnesses here have bet for us to do something and nothing is going to happen as a result of this and that's cruel," Rep. Virginia Foxx, R-North Carolina, said.
But the Democrats leading the investigation disagreed, stating they are exploring legislation that would prevent not just the NFL, but all companies, from using confidentiality agreements and nondisclosure agreements to cover up allegations of sexual harassment and sexual assault.
Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi, D-Illinois, who is leading the investigation on behalf of the Democrats, said, "Mr. Snyder has used nondisclosure agreements to silence employees who have experienced sexual harassment and other workplace abuses. He has made it difficult for employees to come forward with the fear of retaliation."
The former employees confirmed they were all required to sign confidentiality agreements when they first began working for the team, and for some, when they left the team.
Krishnamoorthi said the NFL continues to provide information requested by Congress in October, but noted there are more than 650,000 emails and documents relating to the NFL's internal investigation. He declined to provide many details on what the NFL has yet to submit, but did say the league has not turned over Wilkinson's report nor a purported video of female employees changing clothes that was recorded without their permission.
One of the more contentious moments during the roundtable discussion occurred when Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Virginia, began apologizing to the women for being "victimized all over again," prompting Rep. John Comer, R-Kentucky, to interrupt him several times.
When the ruckus died down, Connolly told his congressional colleagues, "This is a sordid tale about power, greed and money. And, you know, we saw the name change yesterday. But until this pervasive culture of abuse and impunity ends, it's nothing more than lipstick on a pig."
Connolly was wearing a burgundy-and-gold T-shirt under his suit jacket that read "Release the Report." He said Coburn had given it to him before the hearing, and many of the women wore similar shirts when they left the hearing room.
Connolly said Congress has authority to conduct this investigation for several reasons, including granting the NFL what he called "unique tax status."
Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Florida, also spoke on the NFL's tax status, stating the NFL netted $8 billion last year, or roughly $250 million per team.
"We need to take a real good look at that to determine whether or not it's really eligible for tax-exempt status," she told her colleagues.
Wasserman Schultz called Thursday's hearing an "opening salvo," telling the team's former employees that she and other members investigating the team "are going to stay on this like glue."
At the conclusion of the hearing, Johnston said she is a registered Republican and called the party's response "disappointing."
"I could read through the lines. This was planned beforehand and it was clearly political and unfortunately that's the world we live in right now. But we're human beings and Republican women and Democrat women are all being affected like this. So it is truly a bipartisan issue."
In a statement released after the roundtable, attorneys Lisa Banks and Debra Katz, who represent the six witnesses who testified and over 40 former Commanders employees, said Thursday's proceedings were "an important first step in holding the Washington Football Team, and workplaces across the nation, accountable for the mistreatment of female employees."
"In the face of overwhelming evidence that WFT executives and Dan Snyder have abused female employees for decades with impunity, it is time for Congress to demand transparency and accountability. We are eager to continue to work with the Committee to hold the NFL and Dan Snyder accountable, and to work towards a more just workplace for employees," Banks and Katz said in the statement.