OMAHA, Neb. -- Two Nebraska women are suing Joe Ricketts, the founder of online brokerage TD Ameritrade and an owner of the Chicago Cubs, claiming he fired them from his Omaha-based charity after they accused its chief operating officer of sexual harassment.
Patricia Davis and Patricia Duncan filed a federal lawsuit against Joe Ricketts and the Opportunity Education Foundation, which provides educational opportunities to children in developing nations. Ricketts' family owns the major league baseball team.
The lawsuit alleges that the COO often discussed his own sex life and made inappropriate comments about women's physical appearance. He often commented about Davis' legs and cleavage, and once putted a golf ball into Duncan's office and said "I'm trying to get into your hole," according to the suit.
Both women were fired within weeks of discussing their complaints with Ricketts and the foundation's executive director in August 2009. Although the COO was eventually fired after Davis complained to the foundation's outside human relations firm, he was quietly rehired by Ricketts within days to work outside the office, according to the lawsuit.
The Nebraska Equal Opportunity Commission found reasonable cause of retaliation against both women but not of sexual harassment. The COO, who is not being sued, no longer works for the charity.
Ricketts' attorney said Wednesday that the lawsuit and its allegations were meritless.
"Mr. Ricketts and Opportunity Education Foundation welcome the opportunity to rebut them in court while continuing the foundation's important charitable work," said Ken Turnbull, who is based in New York.
The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Omaha on Monday, also names Ricketts' holding company, Hugo Enterprises, and the outside human resources company. Messages seeking comment left for Ricketts, the former COO, the women's attorney and at various phone listings in Omaha for a Patricia Davis and a Patricia Duncan were not returned Wednesday.
According to the lawsuit, Ricketts told Duncan within two weeks of her complaint that her part-time services were no longer needed and the foundation would call her "when work picked up." When Ricketts and his attorney asked Duncan about her sexual harassment claim, they cited the golf ball comment and told her "she had probably misunderstood the comment," the lawsuit said. "She told them that her husband had not misunderstood it."
Davis also was interviewed, and Ricketts told her days later that the COO denied sexually harassing her. When she asked Ricketts to interview other employees who could verify the harassment, he angrily pointed a finger in her face and said, "Do not tell me how to run my business," according to the lawsuit. Ricketts later called the COO into the room, telling Davis that he was her boss and that she needed to get along with him, the lawsuit said.
Davis claims that over the next two months, she was excluded from meetings and duties essential to her job. When she complained of harassment to the outside human resources firm, she and the COO were put on paid administrative leave and eventually fired in December 2009.
In finding reasonable cause for retaliation, the Nebraska Equal Opportunity Commission noted Davis and the COO were fired at the same time but that the COO was temporarily rehired "as a contract employee." But the agency also found that although inappropriate comments may have been made, it was unclear whether they "were sufficiently severe or pervasive to affect or alter a term, condition or privilege of employment."