It’s not looking good for Panthers owner Jerry Richardson. Just days after it was revealed that the Panthers were conducting an internal investigation into Richardson for “workplace misconduct”, Sports Illustrated is reporting that the Panthers owner has made several confidential payouts in the past to settle sexual harassment allegations.
According to SI, Richardson’s behavior was commonplace especially on Jeans Day around the office.
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?
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.”
But to other Panthers employees, Richardson’s behavior on Jeans Day was consistent with a broader pattern of disturbing—and potentially actionable—office behavior. On Friday evening, the Panthers announced that they had commenced an internal investigation into allegations of workplace misconduct against Richardson, to be led 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. On Sunday morning the NFL announced it was taking over the investigation.
During its own investigation in the weeks prior, SI learned that on multiple occasions when Richardson’s conduct has 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
And there was also this apparently recent issue with a former Panthers scout:
Perceptions of casual racism hardened recently when, multiple sources told SI, Richardson directed a racial slur at an African-American scout for the Panthers. The scout left the team this year—but not, according to sources, before he sought the counsel of a Charlotte attorney who negotiated a confidential settlement on his behalf. Contacted by SI and asked if he wished to comment, the scout responded, “I’m not in a position to talk.”
Reading this report, it is hard to imagine that Richardson remains the owner of the Panthers much longer. Please do head to SI to read the whole story for further context.