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Former NFL employee claims league labeled photos of women with 'sexually degrading remarks' in lawsuit

League says photos are marked as 'sensitive' so they won't be used again

The NFL is under fire once again. (Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports)
The NFL is under fire once again. (Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports)

A former NFL human resources employee alleged in an employment discrimination lawsuit filed earlier this year in New Jersey that NFL Flims — the league's production team — kept photos of women in its archive with sexually charged descriptions, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Victoria Russell, the plaintiff, said in the lawsuit she found “a chat room log tracking timestamps on NFL footage and linking the timestamps to sexualized and offensive descriptions of women captured on that footage" during a 2018 audit of the HR system. Phrases included: “cheerleaders buttocks,” “cheerleaders rear end,” “female fan in bikini top,” “naughty camera work,” “close up of cheerleader’s breasts; cleavage shot,” “shot of endowed woman” and “random woman, cleavage shot.”

In total, Russell said there were around 14 pages of the chat room "of sexually degrading remarks about women."

NFL spokesperson Brian McCarthy said those images were marked "sensitive" so they wouldn't be used in future productions. He added that the aforementioned descriptions were inaccurate, per the WSJ, but maintained that NFL Films keeps all its footage, including those which are deemed inappropriate for use.

“Those frames are logged as ‘sensitive’ so that they can be removed from circulation, meaning they will not be accessible to employees whose job it is to locate footage for productions,” McCarthy said. “Ms. Russell didn’t have credentials for the logging system, nor did any aspect of her responsibilities involve accessing footage.”

Russell's lawsuit was filed after she alleges she was fired six months after being promoted while she was pregnant without any warnings about her performance. Russell, who is a Black woman, worked in HR for the league between 2018-2022. She claims she was denied a dedicated workplace, pay raises and advancement opportunities, according to the WSJ. Her contract as a temporary employee through an agency wasn't renewed, per the WSJ.

The league denied any wrongdoing with regard to Russell's accusations.

“We are committed to providing all employees a workplace that is respectful, diverse, inclusive and free from discrimination and harassment,” McCarthy said. “The NFL didn’t discriminate or retaliate against Ms. Russell during her time as a temporary staff member. We will vigorously defend against these claims.”