Content warning: This story contains details about alleged sexual assault.
One year ago, a lawsuit was filed against the Penguins, their ownership and their former Wilkes-Barre/Scranton head coach for “negligently retaining a known serial harasser, defendant Clark Donatelli, as a head coach, allowing him to harass and sexually assault women” and then “retaliating against her husband” after he reported the assault. The lawsuit was filed in Pennsylvania as the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins are the American Hockey League team for the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Former Wilkes-Barre/Scranton assistant coach Jarrod Skalde and his wife, Erin, are the plaintiffs. The lawsuit details an alleged incident that occurred in Rhode Island and the subsequent alleged coverup by the organization. Skalde was let go by the Penguins in May 2020 and cites in the lawsuit that he believes he was let go by the club as retaliation for reporting Donatelli, who left the club in June 2019.
“We took this Wilkes-Barre/Scranton incident very seriously and acted immediately,” a Penguins statement from Nov. 2 read. “The team investigated and addressed the alleged incident within hours of being notified in June 2019, despite the fact that Mr. Skalde delayed seven months before he reported the incident. Immediately upon receiving the report, a full investigation was conducted within 72 hours, and the former coach resigned from the organization.
“Following the report, Mr. Skalde continued to coach in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton for an additional year, until we made significant staff reductions due to the Covid-19 pandemic.”
On Nov. 2, Erin Skalde’s attorneys were set to hold a news conference announcing they would be filing an additional civil suit in Rhode Island but held off as another woman has come forward alleging a sexual assault by Donatelli.
What are the allegations?
Former Wilkes-Barre/Scranton assistant coach Jarrod Skalde filed a suit in November 2020 alleging then-head coach Clark Donatelli assaulted his wife, Erin, during a team road trip to Providence, R.I., in November 2018.
The lawsuit contends that when Jarrod Skalde left to schedule a car ride back to the team hotel, Donatelli pulled Erin Skalde close to him by putting his arm around her and calling her “sexy.” When she pushed him away, the lawsuit alleges, he reached under her shirt and groped her breasts and tried to reach into her pants.
Jarrod Skalde returned and the three then got into a car with Donatelli telling Jarrod Skalde to ride up front.
“Still in shock and uncertain what to do in response to her husband’s boss sexually assaulting her, Mrs. Skalde fearfully entered the backseat of the car, trying to put as much distance between herself and Mr. Donatelli as she could, to avoid him again sexually touching her,” the lawsuit reads.
Donatelli then sexually assaulted Erin as they rode in the backseat, groping her again, according to the lawsuit.
“Mr. Donatelli resumed his sexual assault and battery of Mrs. Skalde once he had her in the darkness of the backseat,” the lawsuit reads. “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. Mrs. Skalde was in shock and began to cry. … Only later did Mr. Skalde find out what happened to his wife that night, shaking him to the core to learn that he had sat unknowingly in the front seat as his boss has sexually assaulted his wife.”
The lawsuit also alleges that Donatelli was a serial offender and had assaulted other women including the Skaldes’ friend who was visiting from out of town. It alleges that in November 2018 he tried to pull up her shirt and grope her at a bar in Pennsylvania.
What is the timeline of events?
Nov. 11, 2018
The Skaldes and Donatelli go to dinner in Rhode Island after a Penguins road game and Donatelli allegedly sexually assaults Erin Skalde multiple times, according to a lawsuit.
May 15, 2019
Jarrod Skalde confronts Donatelli about the assault on his wife and other women, according to the lawsuit. Donatelli states that he was “too drunk” to remember the events of that night, the lawsuit states. Six days later, he apologizes to Jarrod Skalde and after Erin confronts him says he will seek help and tell Guerin what occurred, according to the suit.
June 21, 2019
At the 2019 NHL Draft in Vancouver, B.C., Skalde informs then-Penguins assistant general manager Bill Guerin of the assault after Donatelli did not follow through, the lawsuit states. Skalde is told it would be handled, according to the lawsuit.
June 25, 2019
Jarrod Skalde meets with an in-house attorney and describes his wife’s struggles with the emotional trauma of the night. The attorney asks, at the end, whether he “feared he would lose his job as a result of reporting Mr. Donatelli’s conduct and he answered that, ‘yes,’ he did have that fear.” Erin Skalde was never interviewed, per the lawsuit.
June 28, 2019
Publicly, Donatelli resigns for “personal reasons.” Reportedly, Donatelli was actually dismissed but Skalde claims he was told by Guerin: “Knowledge of the incident and termination had to be suppressed, cautioning that it ‘has to stay quiet and can’t be let out.’”
Aug. 21, 2019
Bill Guerin is hired as the Wild’s new general manager.
Skalde is given a reduced role and stripped of the responsibility of running the team’s power play. He also cites he was the “only coach left with an old and outdated” computer.
May 5, 2020
Jarrod Skalde is let go by the Penguins. Skalde says it is because he complained to the team about Donatelli. The organization says it was “due to the impact of the COVID-019 pandemic” that his contract was not renewed. According to the lawsuit, he was the only member of the hockey operations staff (21 total employees) terminated.
One week later
Wilkes-Barre/Scranton head coach Mike Vellucci (who was hired after Donatelli was dismissed) asks Skalde whether he would be interested in coaching the ECHL affiliate in Wheeling, Va., and he says he would. He is interviewed on May 27, 2020.
Nov. 3, 2020
The lawsuit is filed in Pennsylvania.
Nov. 2, 2021
Erin Skalde’s lawyers, Romanucci & Blandin LLC, announce they will be will holding a Zoom news conference to discuss the imminent filing of a civil lawsuit on her behalf against the Pittsburgh Penguins organization, Clark Donatelli, Bill Guerin, Pittsburgh Penguins LP, Lemieux Group LP and co-owners Mario Lemieux and Ronald Burkle.
“The lawsuit will state that sexual abuse took place on a team road trip and that the team’s handling of the incident included Jarrod being told to keep quiet by organization management, Erin being called a liar and never being interviewed as part of the team’s investigation, along with Jarrod being fired from the organization,” the news release states. “Additionally, the Penguins organization has made public comments that show an utter disregard for the experience of a sexual assault victim and have retraumatized her multiple times.”
A few hours later, founding partner Antonio M. Romanucci, releases the following update:
“There has been a development in the case we will file on behalf of Erin Skalde for sexual assault by former WBS Penguins hockey coach Clark Donatelli. A second woman who detailed a similar assault by Donatelli on a different date and different time in a different location has retained our law firm. Our legal team is moving quickly to investigate those facts, the similar pattern of assault and Donatelli’s acting with unbridled impunity.
“We look forward to holding him and others who were involved accountable for their actions. The time of reckoning has arrived, time to stop the stench of hockey culture putting sports before the sanctity of human decency.”