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Athletic Trainer Sues District, Alleges Toxic Environment

Jason Scott

A former athletic trainer at Brattleboro Union (Vt.) High School has filed a lawsuit against the school district, alleging that a toxic work environment forced her to resign. 

According to the Brattleboro Reformer, Jaclyn Penson’s lawsuit claims that coaches regularly interfered with her work, preventing her from implementing safety protocols and procedures intended to enhance student-athlete safety. Penson also claims coaches undermined her, and were critical and disrespectful toward her and her attempts to implement these safety measures. 

The suit, filed in federal court because Penson is based in New Hampshire while the district is in neighboring Vermont, claims that Penson’s role as athletic trainer was routinely undermined by varsity boys hockey coach Eric Libardoni and that athletic director Chris Sawyer did little to intervene. 

According to the suit, Libardoni “actively discouraged students from consulting” with Penson for examinations and injury treatment, despite Penson’s role as an “allied healthcare provider” under Vermont law. 

Libardoni allegedly intimidated student-athletes and convinced them not to consult with Penson about potential injuries. The suit cites an incident where Penson intervened to stop a fist fight during a hockey game and determined a player involved had suffered a concussion. Libardoni then allegedly “verbally assaulted” Penson, “creating a hostile environment that made it difficult to implement concussion protocol and therefore prevent further injury to the athlete.” In another incident cited in the suit, Libardoni allegedly prevented Penson and a visiting team athletic trainer from evaluating a student-athlete after he had hit their head on the arena ice.

In addition, Penson’s suit claims that Libardoni had a habit of administering so-called smelling salts to student-athletes. “Administering ‘smelling salts’ to student-athletes violates the safety protocols because it may cause them to exceed their personal limits in athletic endeavors, exercises and activities,” the suit claims. 

Penson brought her concerns to administrators, including reporting Libardoni to the Vermont Agency of Education and the school district. Libardoni then began to discourage student-athletes from disclosing their potential injuries to her.

Penson “finally realized that school authorities had no intention of curtailing Libardoni’s threats and abuse towards students or his intimidation towards her,” after school officials and other coaches allegedly criticized her for reporting Libardoni. Ultimately, she resigned under what the suit claims was “an intolerable working situation.”

The lawsuit seeks an award in excess of $75,000.

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