NBC 10 I-Team: Women suing YMCA, O'Donnell
Two women are accusing their high-profile former boss, Steven O’Donnell, and his new employer, the Greater Providence YMCA, of gender discrimination and harassment in a new lawsuit, the NBC 10 I-Team has learned.
Linda Dykeman formerly worked as the Chief Financial Officer at the Greater Providence YMCA, while Karen Cooper was the organization’s Chief Marketing and Development Officer.
Both women resigned in 2017, following what they claim was a hostile work environment under O’Donnell’s leadership.
O’Donnell is the former colonel of the Rhode Island State Police, and took over as CEO of the Y in October 2015 after retiring from a distinguished career in law enforcement.
In court documents, Dykeman and Cooper claim O’Donnell treated them "differently, more harshly, and with less respect than the male executives” and that he would "chastise, scold, belittle, and demean the females but did not speak to the males in that way."
The women also claim O’Donnell would text and email them at all hours of the day and night, expecting an immediate response, but didn’t hold male employees to the same standard.
The NBC 10 I-Team reached out to lawyers representing the YMCA of Greater Providence and O’Donnell, who said the Y is standing by O’Donnell and will fight the lawsuit.
In an emailed statement, attorney John Doran told NBC 10 that, “Ms. Dykeman’s and Ms. Cooper’s claims of gender-based discrimination, harassment, unlawful retaliation, and defamation are entirely baseless.”
Doran said the women’s complaints are disagreements with management, not discrimination or harassment. He noted that the Department of Labor and Training denied the women’s claims for unemployment benefits, because a DLT investigator found that they resigned their jobs voluntarily.
“We expect Plaintiffs’ federal suit will be seen in the same light as their claim for unemployment benefits and ultimately be dismissed,” Doran said.
Gail Corrigan was Chair of the Board at the Y in late 2016 and early 2017, when Dykeman and Cooper say they came to her to file formal complaints about O’Donnell.
Corrigan was replaced as Chair by a vote of 32-0 a short time later. She filed a complaint with Rhode Island’s Human Rights Commission, but is not a plaintiff in the current lawsuit.