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BigLaw partner sued for alleged 'toxic work environment' comment about ex-Commanders executive

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A Holland & Knight partner’s alleged remarks about a “toxic work environment” and a fired Washington Commanders executive have been cited in a defamation lawsuit filed earlier this month. Image from Shutterstock.

A Holland & Knight partner’s alleged remarks about a “toxic work environment” and a fired Washington Commanders executive are cited in a defamation lawsuit filed earlier this month.

The July 7 suit by former executive Jason Friedman targets the team and Holland & Knight partner John L. Brownlee for statements that they made after the plaintiff alleged financial improprieties by the team.

The plaintiff is Friedman, a former ticket and sales executive with the Washington Commanders football team.

Brownlee is co-chair of Holland & Knight’s national white-collar defense and investigations team. He had represented the Washington Commanders and the team’s owner during an investigation last year by the U.S. House of Representatives’ Committee on Oversight and Accountability, according to Law360.

Besides Law360, publications with coverage include the Washington Post and ESPN.

Friedman had testified in March 2022 in a closed-door session before the House’s Committee on Oversight and Accountability. Friedman testified that the Washington Commanders mischaracterized some of its revenue, so it wouldn’t have to be shared with the NFL, according to the suit.

Word spread that Friedman had testified, and that the team was facing allegations of financial improprieties, the suit said.

The team denied the allegations in an April 2022 statement that Friedman said was clearly referring to him. The statement said: “Anyone who offered testimony suggesting a withholding of revenue has committed perjury, plain and simple.” Friedman also said the team submitted a letter to the Federal Trade Commission that falsely called him “a serial liar.”

Friedman’s House testimony followed allegations by 15 women who alleged in a July 2020 article in the Washington Post that they faced sexual harassment while employed by the team.

Friedman contends that Brownlee defamed him in an October 2022 radio interview in which Friedman was identified by name. According to the suit, Brownlee wrongly tried to tie Friedman to the sexual harassment scandal when he offered a reason for Friedman’s firing.

According to the suit, Brownlee said Friedman was fired “because he became the very toxic work environment that the team was trying to rid itself [of].”

The suit said “the clear and intended implication of Mr. Brownlee’s false public statement” was that Friedman was one of several male executives who were fired because they were implicated in the sexual harassment scandal.

The suit said Friedman has never been accused of sexually harassing or assaulting anyone. He was told that he was fired because of surveys showing that he was “heavy-handed” and “abrasive” and because ticket sales were down.

The sports team had made the accusations about Friedman to the FTC after the House committee told the agency that the team may have engaged in an unlawful pattern of financial misconduct. According to the suit, the team identified Friedman in a letter to the FTC that later became public. The letter said:

  • Friedman’s testimony “was a lie from the beginning.”
  • Friedman is “a serial liar.”
  • Allegations by the committee rely on the “false testimony of a single disgruntled former employee.”
  • The disgruntled employee had “notable impairments to his credibility.”

A spokesperson for the Washington Commanders told the Washington Post that the team thinks that the complaint “is completely without merit, and we will vigorously defend the team against these false allegations.”

Brownlee did not immediately respond to the ABA Journal’s request for comment made by email and voicemail.

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