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NBC 10 I-Team Exclusive: O’Donnell accused of retaliation

Gayle Corrigan, former Board Chair of the Greater Providence YMCA, has filed a discrimination complaint with Rhode Island’s Human Rights Commission, claiming she suffered retaliation from CEO Steven O’Donnell after she reported alleged harassment and discrimination against two other women at the organization. (WJAR)

Gayle Corrigan, former Board Chair of the Greater Providence YMCA, has filed a discrimination complaint with Rhode Island’s Human Rights Commission, claiming she suffered retaliation from CEO Steven O’Donnell after she reported alleged harassment and discrimination against two other women at the organization.

Corrigan’s complaint follows one filed by former YMCA executives Linda Dykeman and Karen Cooper on Feb 21.

Dykeman was the Y’s Chief Financial Officer from April 2016 until last month. Cooper was the non-profit’s Chief Development and Marketing Officer from late December through February. Both left their jobs shortly before filing the complaint.

In her complaint, Corrigan claims O’Donnell “was engaged in an increasingly hostile relationship with two female executive-level employees,” referring to Dykeman and Cooper.

Corrigan said she offered to act as a mediator and told O’Donnell during a face-to-face meeting that “he was going to need to find a way to treat the female employees fairly and equitably, without using intimidating or hostile tactics.”

O’Donnell “became confrontational,” the complaint alleges, and “blamed Ms. Corrigan for the complaints rather than his own behavior.” O’Donnell also allegedly threatened to have Corrigan removed as Board Chair, saying he had the votes and “I will take you out.”

Corrigan said she was told Jan. 24 she had been terminated.

O’Donnell retired after a distinguished career as colonel of the Rhode Island State Police in October and joined the YMCA a short time later. He was hired to turn around the non-profit, which has struggled financially in recent years.

The NBC 10 I-Team reached out to O’Donnell for a response to the allegations. He directed questions to the Y’s current Board Chair, Jamia McDonald.

“To date, we have not been formally served with allegations, but it is important to note that Gayle Corrigan was a member of this Board of Directors until she was removed by 32-0 vote for providing false information as well as abusing her authority for personal gain,” McDonald said in a statement emailed to NBC 10.

McDonald called Corrigan’s complaint a personal attack on O’Donnell and an attempt to harm the Y. She also noted that Corrigan’s work as Board Chair was in an unpaid, volunteer positon with no contractual relationship to the YMCA.

“The entire Board stands behind the CEO and our decisions related to [Corrigan’s] behavior, and will continue to focus on the important work we do on behalf of the families we serve,” McDonald said.

John Martin, a Massachusetts attorney who represents all three women, said the accusation that Corrigan misled the Board was untrue.

"Any allegations about Gayle Corrigan abusing her authority are patently false and come from no one other than Steve O’Donnell,” Martin said. He added that O’Donnell “gave the board false and defamatory information during a secret board meeting in order to remove [Corrigan] after she initiated an investigation into allegations of sexual harassment against him."

Corrigan has been active in state government and financial circles for a number of years. Presently, she is overseeing the struggling Central Coventry Fire District. She previously served as Deputy Director of RI Housing. There, she was fired, but later reinstated after filing a wrongful termination suit.

She was also chief of staff to the receiver overseeing the restructuring of Central Falls when the city filed bankruptcy. The NBC 10 I-Team obtained documents indicating that prior to that, she was fired from Senesco Marine in North Kingstown.

In their earlier complaints, Dykeman and Cooper alleged O’Donnell would “chastise, scold, belittle, and demean the females but not speak to the males in that way.”

Their complaint also said the CEO would demand immediate responses from late night texts and emails and throw “temper tantrums” when those replies took too long.

Both O’Donnell and McDonald denied the earlier allegations from Dykeman and Cooper and said the claims have no merit.

The Commission for Human Rights now has up to 180 days to consider Corrigan’s complaint, and determine whether there's probable cause for a discrimination claim. Corrigan could then ask for a public hearing or move forward with a lawsuit.

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