It seems there cannot be a ray of sunshine this year without a few dark clouds. As the professional hockey world gears for the NHL Return set to become official this week, the Pittsburgh Penguins were hit with a lawsuit that alleges the organization pressured former assistant coach Jarrod Skalde to keep quiet about sexual assault allegations against former WBS Penguins head coach Clark Donatelli, then later dismissed Skalde
The story broke on Tuesday morning via TSN.
We must note the following charges and accusations have not been proven. At least one former member of the Pittsburgh Penguins hockey operations and one professional colleague of Donatelli reached out to PHN to defend Donatelli.
Former WBS Penguins assistant coach Jarrod Skalde and his wife Erin filed suit in U.S. District Court over the alleged incident which involved Donatelli in November 2018. As part of the suit, Skalde also accused Donatelli of being “a serial harasser,” who assaulted Skalde’s wife, and former Penguins assistant GM Bill Guerin ordered Skalde to “keep quiet.”
The Penguins terminated Skalde in June due to organizational cutbacks due to COVID-19. Skalde disputed the reason and asked the court to grant him whistleblower status.
The Penguins denied all charges, and lawyers countered that whistleblowers must legally report the incident within 180 days. According to the TSN story, the Penguins have filed a motion to dismiss the suit.
As a matter of process, Pittsburgh Hockey Now or representatives have reached out to Guerin, who was the WBS Penguins GM at the time of the alleged incident, and others who may have direct knowledge of events. Due to the pending litigation, we could not get comments or on the record responses before publishing.
Sources in Wheeling, where Donatelli coached from 2011 to 2015, expressed shock at the sexual assault allegations.
“It was no secret he liked to drink,” a Wheeling source told PHN. “But (the allegations) are out of character.”
We should also note the former member of the Pittsburgh Penguins hockey operations staff who reached out to PHN to vociferously objected to part of the lawsuit, which claimed the Penguins terminated Skalde in 2019 because of the allegations.
Donatelli was promoted to interim head coach of the WBS Penguins in 2015 when Mike Sullivan was promoted to head coach of the Pittsburgh Penguins. The interim tag was later removed, and Donatelli served as the WBS bench boss until June 2019, when he resigned for personal reasons.
Donatelli’s resignation came just days after Skalde says he informed Guerin at the 2019 NHL Draft in Vancouver that Donatelli assaulted his wife.
The remaining details of the alleged incident and allegations contained in the lawsuit are from the TSN story:
The incident began as Jarrod Skalde was momentarily absent from the pair, as they apparently waited for a car-ride service.
“Mrs. Skalde tried to fight off his sexual advances and told (Donatelli) to stop, but to no avail, as Mr. Donatelli escalated his attack, including reaching his hands into Mrs. Skalde’s shirt and repeatedly touching her breasts,” the lawsuit alleges.
Jarrod Skalde returned, and the trio took the ride-service car. As they entered the car, the lawsuit alleges that Donatelli insisted that Erin sit in the back seat with him and that Skalde should sit in the front.
“Still in shock and uncertain what to do in response to her husband’s boss sexually assaulting her, Mrs. Skalde fearfully entered the back seat of the car, trying to put as much distance between herself and Mr. Donatelli as she could, to avoid him again sexually touching her,” TSN quoted the lawsuit.
The lawsuit continued, “He not only groped her breasts again but also forced his hands down her pants and touched her vagina, despite her efforts to push him away.”
It is unclear exactly when Mr. Skalde learned of the attack, but Mrs. Skalde did not inform him that night. Within six days, the lawsuit claims Skalde confronted Donatelli and received an apology, though Donatelli said he was “too drunk to remember.”
No police report was filed.
According to TSN, the Skaldes are suing for physical and emotional pain, mental suffering, and income loss.
Via email, Penguins lawyer Lori Armstrong told TSN: “The team investigated and took immediate action in June 2019 when notified of the alleged incident, which Mr. Skalde reported seven months after it allegedly occurred,” Armstrong wrote. ”Mr. Skalde continued to coach for the team [Wilkes-Barre/Scranton] for an additional year when his contract was not renewed due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. The allegations made against the team have no merit, and we have moved to dismiss the complaint.”