Cardinals must pay former executive $3 million for defamation

Cardinals must pay former executive $3 million for defamation

Tooba Shakir 54 years ago 0 0

An NFL arbitrator awarded a former Arizona Cardinals executive $3 million for “defamatory statements” made about him by the team, according to a filing Monday in federal court in Arizona.

Attorneys for Terry McDonough filed a 62-page decision issued Friday by arbitrator Jeffrey A. Mishkin in U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona in a motion for confirmation of the arbitration award.

“Mr. McDonough has proven his claim for defamation,” Mishkin wrote.

The Cardinals said in a statement issued Monday through a spokesman: “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.”

Mishkin awarded McDonough $600,000 in damages for emotional distress, $150,000 in damages for harm to reputation and punitive damages of $2.25 million.

“Here, Mr. McDonough has proven by clear and convincing evidence that Respondents, consciously and deliberately, intended to cause him harm in publishing the defamatory statements,” Mishkin wrote of the punitive damages. “After receiving the draft demand for arbitration from Claimant’s counsel, Respondents began searching Mr. McDonough’s emails and files for potential content to include in the CounterPoint Statement.”

Mishkin dismissed McDonough’s contract-related claims and ordered him to pay the Cardinals $45,000.

McDonough filed the arbitration demand last year to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. In it, McDonough accused the team and its owner, Michael Bidwill, of “illegal and retaliatory mistreatment” and of attempting to “cheat” on the terms of a general manager’s suspension.

McDonough alleged that Bidwill “cursed at, berated, and formally reprimanded McDonough, and ultimately demoted him” after McDonough and former Cardinals coach Steve Wilks refused to participate in a “scheme hatched by Bidwill to utilize burner phones to communicate” with Steve Keim, then suspended as the team’s GM, during training camp in 2018. Neither McDonough nor Wilks “wanted to cheat by communicating with Keim” in violation of his suspension terms, the arbitration demand said.

McDonough’s defamation allegations were related to a statement the Cardinals released in response to the arbitration demand. The team attributed the statement to Jim McCarthy, an external public relations adviser, and said: “We are reluctantly obliged to provide a public response along with broader context for some disappointing and irresponsible actions by Terry McDonough. Claims he has made in an arbitration filing are wildly false, reckless, and an opportunistic ploy for financial gain.”

The Cardinals also said in that statement: “We have alerted the league about Terry’s maneuvering and provided them with specific details on the distortions that he has put forward. Additionally in recent days we have learned of disturbing allegations of extreme domestic violence by Terry, as detailed below in this response.”

Mishkin, the arbitrator appointed by the NFL to resolve the case, wrote in Friday’s decision: “Like his intentional infliction of emotional distress claim, [McDonough] now focuses his defamation claim entirely on the CounterPoint Statement, and, in particular, ‘on three statements [therein]. One, that McDonough financially cut off his special needs daughter; two, that McDonough abandoned responsibility for his special needs daughter; and three, that McDonough perpetrated acts of ‘extreme domestic violence.’ ”

Mishkin wrote that McDonough had “proven that Respondents’ defamatory statements have caused harm to his reputation.”

The arbitrator wrote in the decision that McDonough “unequivocally asserts that the statements in the CounterPoint Statement are false.” Mishkin also wrote he concluded that McDonough had “proven that the Respondents made ‘false statements’ as required for his defamation claim.”

According to Monday’s court filing, McDonough had sought special damages of $15 million for lost future earnings, general damages of $10 million for emotional distress and $10 million for reputational harm, and punitive damages of $60 to $90 million.

Mishkin wrote in Friday’s arbitration decision that McDonough had “failed to prove his claims” for retaliation under the Arizona Employment Protection Act, intentional infliction of emotional distress and invasion of privacy. The arbitrator dismissed those claims and ordered McDonough to pay the Cardinals $20,000 “as contribution towards their attorneys’ fees as a sanction for Mr. McDonough’s breach of the Confidentiality Order” and $25,000 “as contribution towards their attorneys’ fees incurred in successful defense of Mr. McDonough’s contract-based claims.”

McDonough alleged in his original arbitration demand that when he expressed his concerns to Bidwill on the practice field at training camp, Bidwill “stopped McDonough from speaking and started screaming at him at a high volume, accusing McDonough of insubordination and telling McDonough that he didn’t ‘like his attitude.’ ” The next day, according to the arbitration demand, Bidwill “summoned McDonough to his office and told McDonough he was ‘writing him up’ for unprofessional conduct in the workplace as a result of the discussion on the practice field the day before and an alleged argument [the previous month] between McDonough and Steve Keim.”

According to the arbitration demand, “Bidwill’s mistreatment of McDonough is ongoing and continues to this day” and is “consistent with a pattern of workplace misconduct by Bidwill that is endemic and the hallmark of his stewardship of the storied Cardinals franchise.”

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