Cards ordered to pay ex-VP $3M for defamation

r582086 600x400 3 2

An NFL arbitrator ordered the Arizona Cardinals to pay $3 million to former executive Terry McDonough for “false and defamatory” statements the team made about him to the media, according to a decision filed in federal court on Monday.

In a 62-page decision dated March 29, Jeffrey Mishkin, the arbitrator appointed by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, determined the Cardinals and their owner, Michael Bidwill, defamed McDonough “with malice” in a multipage statement to media organizations that accused McDonough of spousal abuse and neglect of his disabled adult daughter — allegations McDonough has denied.

McDonough’s attorney, Mike Caspino, filed the decision in U.S. District Court in Arizona on Monday as part of McDonough’s request to the court to confirm the award.

“Despite what we consider to be a fundamentally unfair arbitration process, Terry McDonough is the first person ever to win against an NFL owner,” Caspino said in a statement about Monday’s court filing. “Why the NFL has not held Michael Bidwill accountable remains a mystery.”

The Cardinals issued their own statement later Monday that read: “We are pleased with the arbitrator’s decision dismissing all of Terry McDonough’s employment claims and finding that there was nothing improper about his dismissal from the team. As for Mr. McDonough’s other claim, we respect the arbitrator’s determination that our initial statement went too far. We accept responsibility for that statement and are grateful that the arbitration is now resolved.”

The NFL, meanwhile, declined to comment to ESPN on the arbitrator’s ruling.

Mishkin dismissed McDonough’s other claims of unlawful retaliation, intentional infliction of emotional distress and invasion of privacy. McDonough brought the arbitration claim against the team last April, alleging Bidwill and the team retaliated against him after he told Bidwill he was uncomfortable with the team’s use of burner phones to communicate with then-general manager Steve Keim, whom Bidwill had suspended for extreme DUI.

McDonough started working for the Cardinals in 2013 and became vice president of player personnel. He signed a two-year contract extension in May 2022 but was relieved of his duties in January 2023, three months before he filed the arbitration complaint.

In his decision, Mishkin found the statements made by the team, under the guidance of crisis communications firm CounterPoint Strategies, “false and defamatory” because McDonough and his wife “provided unrefuted testimony that Mr. McDonough has never committed an act of domestic violence or domestic abuse” and that “McDonough has never abandoned responsibility for his daughter or cut her off financially.”

The arbitrator also determined the team “published the defamatory statements with actual malice.”

Mishkin detailed how the Cardinals obtained information relating to the spousal abuse allegation against McDonough: In September 2018, former Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald received an unsolicited letter from McDonough’s former father-in-law accusing McDonough of abandoning his daughter. Fitzgerald gave the letter to a team executive who “did not notify Mr. Bidwill of the allegations in the letter” but instead “put the letter in Mr. McDonough’s employment file and never spoke a word of it to Mr. Bidwill until nearly five years later,” when the team searched McDonough’s “emails and files for potential content to include” in its statement, according to Mishkin’s decision.

The team’s “own conduct in giving the letter no credence or consideration whatsoever at the time they received it is clear evidence of their own subjective doubts about the veracity and accuracy of the allegations,” Mishkin wrote in his decision.

Mishkin also detailed how the team possessed emails between McDonough and his wife discussing child support payments and that Bidwill acknowledged that McDonough had been offered a contract in 2019 that would enable him to live in North Carolina near his daughter, which McDonough embraced.

According to the arbitration ruling, McDonough sought $15 million in lost future earnings, $10 million for emotional distress, $10 million for reputational harm and $60 million to $90 million in punitive damages.

Mishkin awarded McDonough $150,000 in general damages for “the harm to his reputation” caused by the defamatory statements, $600,000 in damages for emotional distress caused by the defamatory statements and $2.25 million in punitive damages.

Mishkin found that the team did use burner phones, but he did not find in favor of McDonough’s allegation that the Cardinals’ actions prevented him from being hired as a general manager in the league. Though McDonough was a finalist for the San Francisco 49ers’ GM job in 2017, he had no interviews for GM positions after that, Mishkin wrote.

Noting that the team’s statement remained on CounterPoint’s website throughout the arbitration process, Mishkin determined, “In publicly attacking Mr. McDonough’s personal character by publishing false and defamatory statements entirely unrelated to matters at issue in the arbitration was unjustified in the circumstances and is deserving of punishment.”

Source link

About The Author

Scroll to Top