Washington Football Team Owner Dan Snyder Sues Media, Alleging Defamation
Washington Football Team owner Dan Snyder has accused a disgruntled former team employee of taking money and helping to wage a campaign to spread damaging information against him, according to a filing in Federal District Court Monday.
The employee, Mary-Ellen Blair, worked for the team from 2013-17 as an executive assistant in the front office.
“We are aggressively pursuing Mary-Ellen Blair, a disgruntled former employee who is clearly in the pocket of another and complicit in this scheme to defame Mr. Snyder, in order to ensure that the full weight of the law comes down heavily on all those responsible for these heinous acts,” one of Snyder’s lawyers, Joe Tacopina, said in a statement.
On Monday, Snyder requested records that would help him in a defamation case against an Indian media company known as Media Entertainment Arts WorldWide that he filed just three days before. MEAWW published articles on its website in July that spread negative rumors about Snyder about what was going to be included about him in an upcoming Washington Post story. The Post article detailed the sexual assault harassment allegations of 15 former Washington Football Team employees. The story does not report that Snyder was explicitly involved in any other way than in his capacity as team owner.
The articles on the MEAWW website have since been taken down. Snyder has accused the company of accepting money to publish these articles and expressed his desire for the identity of the person who paid for them.
Nirnay Chowdhary, a founder of M.E.A. WorldWide, said that errors were made in the publication of the articles, but denied that money was accepted in exchange for their publication, according to the New York Times.
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This is not the first time Snyder has sued a media company. Snyder filed a suit against the Washington City paper in 2010 after it published an article that it called “an encyclopedia of the owner’s many failings.” The lawsuit was eventually dropped.
It is important to note that the court filings follow news that the three largest minority shareholders of the Washington Football Team are looking to sell their shares. The owners—Robert Rothman, Dwight Schar and Frederick W. Smith—bought their shares back in 2003 and own about 40 percent of the team. Rothman is a chairman and CEO of the investment company Black Diamond Capital. Schar is a chairman of NVR Inc. NVR +1.3%, the country’s fifth-largest home builder and Smith is a chairman, president, and CEO of FedEx.
FedEx, the namesake of the team’s stadium, threatened to withdraw financial backing if the nickname “Redskins” - the team’s 87-year old moniker - was not changed. After expressing for years that he would never change the name, the Redskins name and logo that has long been considered by many to be a racial slur was officially retired last month. Before the name change, the team also removed the statue of former owner George Preston Marshall, the last NFL owner to integrate his team, from outside RFK Stadium.
Snyder is now seeking $10 million in damages from the media company. In order to help his case, Snyder has targeted Blair, who was fired from the team after being demoted and left the organization on bad terms, according to the filing. The filing also said that Blair reached out to current and past team employees in the late spring for disparaging information on Snyder.
The filing states that Blair received financial support from the same individuals who “hired and directed” MEAWW to publish negative articles about Snyder.
“Mr. Snyder will not stand by idly as these criminals, for their own malicious reasons, seek to sully his good name through outrageous lies, Tacopina said. “To that end, we are aggressively pursuing Mary Ellen Blair, a disgruntled former employee who is clearly in the pocket of another and complicit in this scheme to defame Mr. Snyder, in order to ensure that the full weight of the law comes down heavily on all those responsible for these heinous acts."
Blair’s attorney, Lisa Banks said the following to ESPN.
“Today's legal filing by Dan Snyder seeking documents from former employee Mary Ellen Blair is filled with numerous falsehoods, which are clearly intended to humiliate and intimidate her. Importantly, Ms. Blair never communicated with or provided information to the MEA WorldWide website or anyone related to Mr. Snyder's Indian lawsuit. This filing is an obvious and inappropriate attempt to silence Ms. Blair and others who may wish to communicate with legitimate news organizations about the culture of sexism, harassment and abuse that has existed at the highest levels of the Washington Football team for decades. Bullying and baselessly disparaging former employees who provide truthful information about their experience with Dan Snyder and his organization will do nothing to repair the reputation he claims in this filing to care so deeply about."
The filing further states that Blair told a Washington employee that the Post story would “not be good for Dan,” suggesting that it would expose him using drugs. The filing alleges that Blair told a longtime employee of Snyder’s that the team’s minority shareholders no longer wanted to be involved with the team.
Snyder states in the filing that Blair has a “financial benefactor” who helps her with rent. She lives in an apartment building owned by Comstock. One of the team’s minority owners, Dwight Schar’s daughter Tracy, is on the board of directors at Comstock and works as the senior vice president for marketing at Comstock Holding Companies.
The Times also reports that Comstock’s board includes two other people who worked for Red Zone Capital, which is co-owned by Snyder and Schar.