Earlier this week, it was announced that the Carolina Panthers were investigation owner Jerry Richardson over “workplace misconduct.”
Now, the details are starting emerge of what exactly the workplace misconduct was and it includes sexual harassment and use of racial slurs towards employees, according to Sports Illustrated.
Examples of sexual harassment included this, per report:
Friday was Jeans Day, when most staffers at the Carolina Panthers team offices would wear denim to work. The female employees knew what that meant. 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 ultimately treated as a “running office joke” according to multiple former Panthers team employees, all of which spoke anonymously in fear of retaliation.
Male employees would knowingly ask the women whether the Carolina owner had noticed them that day. Women subjected to Richardson’s comments would often dismiss them with a sheepish wave of a hand. “No one ever said anything, at least not that I heard,” says one former Panthers employee. “He was the boss. It was [viewed] more of a creepy-old-man thing than a threat.”
Sports Illustrated conducted it’s own investigations in the weeks prior to the announcement from the Panthers organization that Richardson was being investigated by by the outside law firm Quinn Emanuel Urquhart and Sullivan LLP and overseen by former White House Chief of Staff and Panthers minority owner Erskine Bowles.
During their investigation, SI learned that on multiple occasions:
Richardson’s conduct triggered complaints—for sexual harassment against female employees and for directing a racial slur at an African American employee—he has taken a leaf from a playbook he’s deployed in the past: Confidential settlements were reached and payments were made to complainants, accompanied by non-disclosure and non-disparagement clauses designed to shield the owner and the organization from further liability and damaging publicity.
The report also claims that at at least four former Panthers employees received “significant settlements” from Richardson or from the team in exchange that they remained silent:
One of the deals was confirmed by a recipient’s significant other, who had contemporaneous knowledge of Richardson’s conduct. On the condition that no potentially identifying details (such as dates or dollar figures) be revealed in this story, SI viewed the physical legal document—which included what appears to be Richardson’s signature—for one such settlement. No public documents or EEOC complaints have been found linking Richardson to workplace abuses, but a former Panthers employee tells SI that, while working for the team, she personally saw documents detailing sexual harassment claims against Richardson that were being investigated by the Panthers.
Richardson, who is being described as a “proud traditionalist”, who is against modern technologies, including e-mail and waited for a long time before acquiring a cellphone, often sent employees handwritten notes and multiple female employees received notes with small cash payments encouraging them to buy dresses or massages:
Multiple female employees recall that their notes eventually came accompanied by small cash payments and encouragement to use the money to treat themselves to massages or dresses. The women would thank Richardson; when he responded with lines on the order of You won’t find another man to treat you the way I treat you, it was still viewed as flattery, if clumsily rendered, by an older man from an older era.
But multiple female employees claim that Richardson’s behavior began to feel uncomfortable when the Panthers owner began commenting on their bodies:
He had a special interest in female grooming, they say. He would notice when their nails were not up to his standards, and pay for them to get manicures. Multiple female employees recalled to SI that Richardson asked them if he could personally shave their legs.
Additional sexual harassment allegations against Richardson included multiple requests from Richardson to have female employees visit him during a workday in his suite inside Bank of America Stadium:
The women would be escorted by Richardson’s assistant, who would then depart, leaving the owner alone with a junior employee. One former female employee recalls Richardson, who stands 6’3″, arriving barefoot and asking for a foot massage. Says one such invitee: “The first time, you thought it was an important meeting with the owner. You [then] realized it was never anything that couldn’t be discussed over the phone.” Others talk of Richardson giving back rubs that lingered too long or went too low down the spine.
On Sunday, the NFL announced that it was taken control of the investigation.