The Penguins Settle

One week after the horrific report detailing the sexual assault and harassment former Chicago Blackhawk Kyle Beach faced, the NHL was once again in the limelight with more allegations of sexual assault and a cover up—this time against the Pittsburgh Penguins organization. 

Erin and Jarrod Skalde filed a claim against the Penguins in federal district court in the Middle District of Pennsylvania in November 2020 for an incident that allegedly occurred in November 2018. They claimed that the head coach of the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins, the Penguins AHL affiliate, Clark Donatelli, sexually assaulted Erin while on a road trip. At the time, her husband Jarrod, was an assistant coach with the team. According to the suit, Donatelli made sexual advances toward Erin, and after being rejected, he groped her. Later that same evening, Donatelli groped her again, this time in the back of a car with Jarrod sitting in the front seat. It was alleged that Jarrod was unaware of the incident until Erin told him hours later. The Skaldes further contend that Donatelli was a serial offender, assaulting other women, including a friend of the Skaldes’. 

Jarrod Skalde stated that he reported the incident to the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins GM, Bill Guerin on June 21, 2019. Less than a week later, Donatelli resigned, citing “personal reasons.” Jarrod also alleged that after Donatelli resigned, Guerin told him to “stay quiet” about the assault. In May 2020, Sklade was fired. He alleges that the organization fired him because he complained to the team—which would have violated Pennsylvania whistleblower laws. The Penguins defended the action, claiming that Sklade is no longer with the team due to a staffing reduction in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The Sklades named the Penguins organization, Pittsburgh Penguins LP, the Lemieux Group LP, co-owners Mario Lemieux and Ronald Burkle, in addition to Donatelli and Guerin, as defendants in the suit. 

The Penguins maintain that they acted in an appropriate and timely manner. They released a statement staying that after receiving a report of the alleged misconduct, they “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.” According to the Penguins, they acted within 72 hours of the report and as a result Donatelli left the club.

On Tuesday, the two parties announced that they have decided to settle the case, and as such, proceedings would be halted. The Sklades’ attorney said that the result was a “satisfactory conclusion for all parties involved.” The details of the settlement, however, have not been disclosed. 

Something interesting to note is that Guerin is in line to be the next GM of the US Men’s Hockey Team ahead of the 2022 Olympics. However, this role may be in jeopardy as US Safe Sport is investigating his handling of the claims against him and the Penguins. 

Comparison to the Blackhawks

This situation has definitely drawn some comparisons to the Blackhawks’ handling of the sexual assault of Kyle Beach. However, it appears that the Penguins acted in a “more proper” way in the three more visible and pertinent categories: the handling of the investigations, the cover-up, and the departure of the abusers from the organization. 

1. The Investigations  

Both teams handled the investigatory process in an entirely different manner. The Blackhawks’ investigation didn’t occur until this past summer, more than ten years after the alleged sexual assault occurred, which by any standard is unacceptable. The Blackhawks even violated their own policies on sexual assault and harassment. On the other hand, according to the Penguins, they launched an investigation within 72 hours of being made aware of the incident, which likely was in accordance the team’s policies. 

2. The Cover-Up

Simply put, the Blackhawks covered up Brad Aldrich’s sexually abusive behavior. According to the investigative report, the team was aware he was sexually abusing one if its players, but did nothing and said nothing to anyone—essentially, they just acted like nothing happened until after they won the Stanley Cup. The Penguins, on the other hand, acted within a week of investigating the claims. They were made aware of the situation and acted accordingly. However, it is important to add that Skalde was instructed to “stay quiet” after the investigation was completed, suggesting that the Penguins didn’t want this information to get out.

3. Removal 

There was also a large difference between the removal of the abusers. The Blackhawks allowed Brad Aldrich to stay on the team for weeks, waiting until after they won the Stanley Cup to let him go. He got to celebrate with the team, he got to have his day with the Cup, and his name was even engraved on it. (The key word there is “was”—it has since been etched out.) On the other hand, the Penguins removed Donatelli within a week of knowing about his actions. There was no celebration for him. Something similar, and a bit disappointing, is that both assailants had the ability to leave on their own, rather than being fired. I understand the scenario was either resign or be fired, but the optics matter—both should have been fired. 

Photo via: NHL.com

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3L & Editor-in-Chief of the Buffalo Environmental Law Journal. Sad fan of the Philadelphia sports teams and Tottenham Hotspur. I enjoy writing and learning about the intersection of sports and business law, with a focus on the NHL. H2P!

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