Beth Wilkinson Hit With Lawsuit Amid NFL Harassment Probe

Law360 (November 24, 2020, 11:02 PM EST) -- A dustup involving litigator Beth Wilkinson and her probe of alleged sexual harassment in the Washington Football Team's front office spilled into federal court this month, as a lawsuit aimed to block information tied to a confidentiality agreement from being disclosed.

The lawsuit, filed by one David P. Donovan in Virginia federal court, sought to bar Wilkinson from disseminating information related to a 2009 confidentiality agreement to which he is a party. The case was filed Nov. 9 in Virginia federal court and unsealed last week, with the complaint and a number of other documents remaining provisionally sealed.

Publicly available court filings don't offer any additional identifying information about the plaintiff.

At the time of at least one of the alleged incidents that Wilkinson is investigating, the team's general counsel was David Patrick Donovan, a resident of Virginia. He held that role from 2005 until 2009, then was the team's chief operating officer until he returned to WilmerHale as a partner in 2011. He has since retired from the firm.

Requests for confirmation and comment by Law360 to attorneys for the plaintiff Donovan were not returned, nor were calls made to a phone number listed to a David P. Donovan in Virginia. WilmerHale declined to comment on the litigation, other than to say it is in no way involved. Jared Marx of Harris Wiltshire & Grannis LLP, an attorney for Wilkinson, said he and his team are not able to comment on the case.

Wilkinson and her law firm Wilkinson Stekloff LLP are in the midst of conducting a high-profile investigation originally launched by the Washington Football Team into allegations of sexual harassment in the organization's front office over a number of years that surfaced as a result of reporting by The Washington Post. The NFL took the reins of that investigation from the team in September, and Wilkinson is now reporting directly to the league as she conducts the probe.

The plaintiff Donovan was seeking a preliminary injunction preventing Wilkinson from disseminating information that he says is subject to a confidentiality agreement. He had sought to keep the entire case he filed sealed, which the court denied, and was seeking to keep a large swath of the case's details redacted. He voluntarily dismissed the case without prejudice late Monday.

The dismissal notice came after a back-and-forth regarding what should and shouldn't be sealed or redacted in the case.

In an earlier Monday filing, Wilkinson said that the issue of redactions in the case must be resolved in a timely manner as "third parties continue to comment on the investigation," pointing to comments made to the press by Washington Football Team owner Daniel Snyder regarding the sexual harassment probe acknowledging that the team had a workplace culture issue.

"The fact that third parties continue to comment on the investigation underscores the need for this court to decide the redaction and sealing issues, so the public can understand what plaintiff is trying to accomplish through this lawsuit and how it relates to the investigation writ-large," Wilkinson said in her filing.

In her filings opposing the injunction, Wilkinson relied on affidavits from two well-known attorneys, Lisa Friel and Brendan Sullivan. Both were sealed. Beginning in 2015, former New York City prosecutor Friel became special counsel for investigations for the NFL. In her role, she looks into violations of the league's personal conduct code. Brendan Sullivan is a Williams & Connolly LLP senior partner who specializes in white collar defense.

Last week, Wilkinson stated in a filing that she cannot file a response or submit declarations in Donovan's suit without consulting with the NFL because the response would need to address the ongoing investigation her firm is doing for the league.

That filing elicited an emergency motion by the plaintiff Donovan on Thursday, asking for more stringent rules around redactions and sealing of documents.

"Those gratuitous references highlighted the necessity for clarity on the sealing status of the required upcoming filings," Donovan's motion said. "If defendant is not required, temporarily pending [U.S. Magistrate Judge Ivan D.] Davis' rulings, to make all ongoing filings under seal, defendant will likely publicly expose all information and material plaintiff sought by his motion to protect from public disclosure."

"The risk of irreparable harm to plaintiff is becoming more imminent, as undersigned counsel received an email from a reporter today advising she plans to publish a story on this partially sealed case," the plaintiff said in another filing.

At the end of August, The Washington Post reported that a film of lewd outtakes from a Washington Football Team cheerleading squad photo shoot was secretly put together in 2008 for private use. The report was the second from the paper after it detailed allegations from more than 40 women who said they suffered sexual harassment while working for the team.

Donovan is represented by Cathy Hinger, Lela Ames, Ana Jara and Claire Rauscher of Womble Bond Dickinson.

Wilkinson is represented by Thomas Connolly, Thomas Mason and Jared Marx of Harris Wiltshire & Grannis LLP.

The case is Donovan v. Wilkinson, case number 1:20-cv-01344, in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia.

--Additional reporting by Zachary Zagger. Editing by Michael Watanabe.

For a reprint of this article, please contact reprints@law360.com.

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Case Information

Case Title

Donovan v. Wilkinson


Case Number

1:20-cv-01344

Court

Virginia Eastern

Nature of Suit

Contract: Other

Judge

Anthony J Trenga

Date Filed

November 09, 2020

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