MINNEAPOLIS — The Minnesota Vikings have hired the attorney who investigated the Miami Dolphins bullying scandal and another who played a prominent role in the fight for marriage equality to help in settlement talks with former punter Chris Kluwe.
Ted Wells, whose investigation in Miami found that guard Richie Incognito and two teammates engaged in persistent harassment of lineman Jonathan Martin, and Roberta Kaplan, who argued successfully in front of the Supreme Court last year that a portion of the Defense of Marriage Act was unconstitutional, were retained on Tuesday.
The two attorneys will engage with Kluwe, who accused the team of cutting him because of his outspoken support of gay marriage. The Vikings issued a 29-page summary of a report earlier this month that found no merit in that claim, but it did confirm Kluwe's accusation that special teams coach Mike Priefer made anti-gay remarks during practice.
The Vikings suspended Priefer for the first three games of the coming season, but Kluwe has threatened to sue the team if it does not release the full 150-page report.
"We pride ourselves on the workplace environment that we have created, centered on diversity, tolerance and respect," Vikings executive vice president for legal affairs Kevin Warren said.
Warren added that the Vikings hired Wells and Kaplan out of "consideration of our standards and the great sensitivity to the issues raised by Chris Kluwe and his attorney, and their potential litigation."
Kaplan has a history of championing gay rights causes, including in United States vs. Windsor, in which the Supreme Court ruled that a portion of the Defense of Marriage Act illegally denied legally married same-sex couples access to marriage benefits.
Wells' investigation of the Dolphins detailed widespread harassment in the team's locker room. The Dolphins fired their offensive line coach and a longtime trainer and vowed to instill a new culture of acceptance and civility in the wake of the report.
"Ted Wells and I have reviewed the investigative findings and firmly believe that the Vikings have worked incredibly hard to achieve an environment of tolerance within the team and organization. While there can be no question that Ted and I are sensitive to issues of diversity and inclusion, here, there is no evidence to suggest that Mr. Kluwe was released from the Vikings for any reason other than his skills as a punter," Kaplan said. "There also was no effort to unfairly discourage his activism while he was a member of the Vikings; to the contrary, it was encouraged by the owners of the Vikings. While our hope is to take a fresh look and assist the Vikings in reaching a resolution with Mr. Kluwe short of litigation, if that is not possible, we will fully defend the Vikings in court."
Kluwe and his attorney, Clayton Halunen, have alleged the Vikings are hiding other incriminating details by not publishing the full report. Kluwe has said a lawsuit would seek more than $10 million and any damages awarded would be donated to LGBT charities.
Halunen told the Star Tribune he viewed the move to hire an attorney like Kaplan with strong ties to gay rights with skepticism.
"It sounds to me like a strategy to obtain public support, because the LGBT community has been outspoken about ... the refusal to make the report public," Halunen said.