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Washington NFL Team Lawyer Said Harassment Probe Unethical (1)

Sept. 9, 2021, 3:15 PMUpdated: Sept. 9, 2021, 6:13 PM

Former Washington Football Team general counsel David Donovan alleged the attorney hired to look into allegations of sexual harassment in the organization violated attorney-client privilege and engaged in fraudulent trickery to obtain confidential information, according to recently released documents.

Donovan said his reputation would be “unfairly and untruthfully smeared in the press, with Donovan unable to respond,” unless Beth Wilkinson was enjoined from sharing confidential information, in an emergency motion for temporary restraining order, filed in November in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia but posted on the court docket Wednesday.

Donovan sued Wilkinson of Wilkinson Stekloff, whom the team hired in July 2020 to review allegations of misconduct after 15 female ex-employees told The Washington Post they were harassed.

Donovan sought to enjoin Wilkinson “from disseminating information that is the subject of a confidential agreement to which plaintiff is a party.” Wilkinson discovered the settlement, about which no information has been made public, during her inquiry.

The NFL in August took over the investigation with Wilkinson at the helm.

In his original TRO complaint also posted to the docket this week, Donovan said Wilkinson “intentionally induced at least one party” to speak about confidential information with her.

“Wilkinson’s tortious interference,” which was “achieved by unethical and deceptive means, warrants entry of an immediate temporary restraining order prohibiting her from using the confidential information in her report,” Donovan said.

Donovan asked the court to “destroy and not use” the confidential information in order “to prevent the imminent and irreparable harm to Donovan’s reputation and business relationship that is certain to follow Wilkinson’s threatened unauthorized and improper release of this information.”

Wilkinson also “demanded Donovan be interviewed,” but Donovan refused, citing the attorney-client privilege, the complaint asserted.

“Rather than acknowledge her wrongful position and retract her request, Wilkinson has threatened to include in her report” that Donovan was interfering with the investigation, Donovan alleged.

The court, on Nov. 12, denied Donovan’s request for a TRO and set a hearing on the motion for a preliminary injunction for Nov. 30.

Donovan voluntarily dismissed the suit on Nov. 23, and the court directed the parties to submit proposed redactions to court filings.

The team, in December, sought to intervene in the suit “to safeguard its legal interests.”

The NFL on July 1, 2021, announced it was fining the team $10 million based on the outcome of Wilkinson’s review.

Commissioner Roger Goodell concluded that the team operated in a “highly unprofessional” manner that included bullying, intimidation, multiple allegations of sexual harassment and a “general lack of respect” in the workplace, “generally and particularly for women,” the league said in a statement.

Also posted on the docket Wednesday were heavily redacted documents concealing confidential information.

Judge Anthony J. Trenga was assigned to the case.

Womble Bond Dickinson (US) LLP represented Donovan.

Kirkland & Ellis LLP and Harris Wiltshire & Grannis LLP represented Wilkinson.

Dechert LLP and Holland & Knight LLP represented the team.

The case is Donovan v. Wilkinson, E.D. Va., No. 20-cv-01344, emergency motion released 9/8/21.

(Updated to add additional reporting in paragraphs 11 and 12)

To contact the reporter on this story: Peter Hayes in Washington at PHayes@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Rob Tricchinelli at rtricchinelli@bloomberglaw.com; Patrick L. Gregory at pgregory@bloomberglaw.com

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