Terry McDonough Awarded $3MM In Arbitration Case Against Cardinals

Almost exactly one year ago, former Cardinals employee Terry McDonough filed an arbitration claim against Cardinals owner Michael Bidwill accusing his former employer of cheating and gross misconduct. That process has now concluded with McDonough’s accusations of defamatory claims against the Cardinals resulting in an arbitration award.

The Cardinals have been ordered to pay McDonough $3MM, as detailed in a 62-page decision from arbitrator Jeffrey Mishkin (via ESPN’s Tisha Thompson). In response to McDonough’s original arbitration filing – which stemmed from allegations of using burner phones during then-GM Steve Keim‘s suspension (and McDonough’s subsequent demotion and dismissal upon taking issue with it) – the Cardinals released a statement which accused the longtime executive of spousal abuse and neglect of his disabled adult daughter.

Mishkin’s findings describe that statement as “false and defamatory,” adding that Bidwill and the Cardinals defamed McDonough “with malice.” The latter will receive $150K for damages to his reputation, $600K for emotional distress and $2.25MM in punitive damages. Per the ruling, McDonough had initially been seeking eight-figure sums for the harm done to his reputation, lost future earnings and emotional distress along with between $60 and $90MM in punitive damages.

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

On that point, Arizona Football Daily’s Mike Jurecki reports Bidwill has, in fact, been found responsible and that the true figure the team will be ordered to pay out will be higher than $3MM. Jurecki adds other employees beyond McDonough have been awarded six figure settlements by Mishkin’s decision. Further updates on those fronts will thus be worth watching for.

Per Thompson, the ruling dismissed claims of unlawful retaliation, intentional infliction of emotional distress and invasion of privacy on the part of Bidwill and the Cardinals. For that reason, no financial award was given with relation to McDonough’s termination in January 2023. That ended his 10-year tenure with the organization, which included positions as high ranking as VP of player personnel. McDonough was a finalist for the 49ers’ general manager position in 2017, finishing as a runner-up to John Lynch. He has not been on the radar for a GM vacancy since, and it will be interesting to see how his career arc is affected by the conclusion of this process.

Responding to the arbitrator’s ruling, the Cardinals released the following statement: “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.”

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