Penguins reach resolution with Erin and Jarrod Skalde in lawsuit over allegations of sexual assault

The team logo is in the center of the Pittsburgh Penguins locker room before players come in. (Keith Srakocic/AP)

Editor's note: The following story deals with sexual assault, and may be upsetting or offensive to some readers. If you or someone you know is in need of support, those in Canada can find province-specific centres, crisis lines and services here. For readers in America, a list of resources and references for survivors and their loved ones can be found here.

Erin and Jarrod Skalde, who had accused the Pittsburgh Penguins in a federal lawsuit of negligently retaining a coach that had sexually assaulted and harassed her and then retaliating against him for reporting the incident, have reached a resolution with the organization, both parties said in separate statements on Tuesday.

Details of the resolution were not disclosed by Romanucci & Blandin, the law firm representing the Skaldes, or the Penguins.

"We are pleased to announce the resolution of the matter involving Erin Skalde and the Pittsburgh Penguins organization, which has come to satisfactory conclusion for all parties involved," Gina A. DeBoni, the managing partner for the firm, and Jason J. Friedl, a senior attorney, said in a statement. "We appreciate the collaboration the team has shown in acknowledging the concerns of our client."

The Skaldes filed a lawsuit against the Penguins in November of 2020 in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania, centred on two main allegations. First, the suit alleged that John "Clark" Donatelli, the former coach of the Penguins' American Hockey League affiliate, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, had molested Erin Skalde during an outing on a road trip in 2018.

The lawsuit described a pair of incidents, in which Donatelli allegedly made unwanted sexual advances, reached up her shirt and grabbed her breasts and then later, in the back of a car with her husband in the front seat unaware of what has happening, reached down her pants and touched her vagina, despite her efforts to stop him.

In May 2019, according to the lawsuit, Jarrod Skalde, an assistant with the minor league team at the time, confronted Donatelli, who told him he was too drunk to remember and later apologized. The suit went on to say that after Erin Skalde confronted Donatelli, he pledged to come forward to Bill Guerin, who was the general manager for Wilkes-Barre/Scranton and assistant GM for the Penguins at the time, but never did so.

Jarrod Skalde said he ended up reporting the incident to Guerin in June 2019 and that the GM assured him he would take care of the situation. Donatelli resigned later that month.

"In June 2019, the Penguins received a report about an alleged incident in November 2018 involving the then head coach of the AHL affiliate in Wilkes-Barre and Erin Skalde, the wife of then Wilkes-Barre assistant coach Jarrod Skalde," the Penguins said in a statement Tuesday. "Upon receiving this report, the Penguins immediately conducted a thorough investigation and took prompt action. Within a few days, the former coach who was alleged to have been involved in the incident departed from the organization.

"In November 2020, Jarrod and Erin Skalde filed a lawsuit against the Penguins and the former Wilkes-Barre coach. The Penguins and Skaldes have agreed to resolve all claims. Through this resolution, the Penguins hope to bring closure to the Skaldes, provide some measure of peace, and continue to encourage and promote a culture of openness, accountability, and respect at all levels of professional sports."

The suit filed by the Skaldes also alleged that Guerin had asked Jarrod Skalde to keep the reason for Donatelli's termination quiet.

The suit went on to further allege that the team punished Jarrod Skalde for reporting the assault, eventually terminating his position under the guise of pandemic-related staff cuts.

"I am glad that this has been resolved and my hope is I can move forward with my professional coaching career and personal life,” Jarrod Skalde said in a statement.

Last year, when asked about the allegations, Guerin said: "When I learned of these allegations, I promptly brought them to Pittsburgh Penguins senior management. The allegations were quickly investigated. I emphatically deny anything to the contrary."

On Tuesday, Guerin reiterated those comments.

"As I said when the suit was filed, I did the right thing here and reported it immediately," Guerin said in a statement obtained by Sportsnet. "I am glad the Skaldes and the Penguins worked this out."

USA Hockey, which has Guerin on its staff as an assistant GM for the U.S. Olympic men's hockey team, did not immediately respond to Sportsnet's requests for comment on the resolution.

Team USA has not publicly said at this time if, in the wake of the settlement, Guerin will fulfill his duties with the organization at the upcoming Beijing Winter Olympics.

The U.S. Center for SafeSport, a nonprofit established to address the problem of sexual abuse of minors and amateur athletes in sport, had reportedly opened an investigation into Guerin's handling of the situation with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, according to TSN. A request for comment made by Sportsnet on how today's resolution impacts that investigation was not immediately answered.

Erin Skalde's lawyers had previously said she planned to file a sexual assault lawsuit against Donatelli, Guerin, the Penguins organization, co-owners Mario Lemieux and Ron Burkle and others. The lawsuit was going to state that sexual abuse took place on a team road trip to Providence, R.I. on Nov. 11, 2018.

A plan to publicly detail the allegations in a Zoom press conference was postponed after a second woman, saying she experienced a similar assault by Donatelli on a different date and different time in a different location, retained Romanucci & Blandin as representation.

Sportsnet requested comment Romanucci & Blandin regarding the second woman and her allegations, and if Tuesday's resolution impacts her claims, but did not immediately receive an answer.

“The events of the last three years have been deeply challenging and my hope is to now move forward as an advocate for others," Erin Skalde said in a statement. "I call this commitment my Meaningful Life Project and my most fervent energy and efforts will be focused there to continue my personal growth, support others and be an instrument of change."

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