- The investigation into Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson was reportedly brought on by private financial settlements he made to former employees after complaints of sexual harassment and the use of a racial slur.
- Richardson reportedly followed the settlements with non-disclosure and non-disparagement clauses.
- Richardson reportedly frequently commented on female employees’ looks and made unwanted sexual contact.
- This past year, Richardson also reportedly directed a racial slur to an African-American team scout.
The investigation into Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson was spurred by financial settlements made to team employees by Richardson after accusations of sexual misconduct and the use of a racial slur, according to a report on Sports Illustrated by L. Jon Wertheim and Vin Bernstein.
The report details allegations of a culture of intimidation brought by Richardson’s presence and a history of making repeated inappropriate sexual gestures toward female employees.
According to Sports Illustrated, Richardson made several financial settlements after complaints of sexual harassment and using a racial slur toward an African-American, followed by non-disclosure and non-disparagement agreements. SI reported that it reviewed one such legal document that appeared to be signed by Richardson and were told of other settlements by former employees on the condition of anonymity.
According to the report, Richardson, 81, often commented on female employees’ appearances. On casual Fridays when employees could wear jeans, he would reportedly ask female employees to turn around so he could admire their backsides and would ask how they got into the jeans. Employees also told SI that Richardson paid for female employees’ manicures, offered back massages, asked for foot massages, and asked to shave their legs, often in private meetings.
Some female employees told SI that Richardson would invite them out to lunch, open the car door for them, and ask to buckle their seatbelt, brushing their breasts as he reached over them.
According to SI, Richardson’s behavior was at times considered a running joke within the organization, with some of his gestures brushed off as an old man from an older generation. Other times, however, employees felt intimidated and felt the behavior crossed a line.
Additionally, Richardson reportedly directed a slur at an African-American scout this year. The scout left the team but employed a Charlotte attorney to negotiate a settlement. Richardson has reportedly made other racially insensitive gestures, like asking for African-American players not to wear dreadlocks and asking one African-American employee to apply sunblock to his face.
The report detailed a culture of intimidation in general. Richardson is reportedly referred to only as “Mister” around the organization. Employees reportedly adhered to Richardson’s demands whenever he made them.
The investigation into Richardson was initially started by the Panthers with the help of an outside law firm. The NFL on Sunday announced that it is taking over the investigation.
The Panthers told SI in a statement:
“The Carolina Panthers recently commenced an internal investigation into allegations of workplace misconduct against the team’s owner and founder, Jerry Richardson. We welcome the involvement of the NFL.
“The Carolina Panthers and Mr. Richardson take these allegations very seriously and are fully committed to a full investigation and taking appropriate steps to address and remediate any misconduct. The entire organization is fully committed to ensuring a safe, comfortable and diverse work environment where all individuals, regardless of sex, race, color, religion, gender, or sexual identity or orientation, are treated fairly and equally.”
Because of the investigation, the Panthers told SI they would not comment publicly on the specific allegations.