If you merely relied on the squash-program description found on the Web site of the Westchester Country Club, in Rye, New York, you would be missing out on one of the more tantalizing dramas to hit the exclusive world of tony suburban country clubs in years.

Here’s what you learn about the club’s squash program online: it has been around for 18 years; they have six singles courts and one doubles court; they regularly host national junior squash tournaments, along with men’s and women’s professional events; they offer free introductory lessons for beginners; and, naturally, “the program has seen much success.”

But a civil complaint filed recently by former squash director Natalie Grainger against the club; its board chairman, Mark Christiana; and its former chief operating officer, Tom Nevin, paints a gloomier picture. According to Grainger, the squash program has been a hotbed of steamy affairs and sexual harassment between several of the club’s rich, powerful male members and the far younger, less powerful female squash professionals who worked for her.

Grainger was picked to be squash director out of a pool of some 70 applicants.

She claims that Westchester Country Club “created, fostered and enabled a sexually hostile work environment for women.” Two of her female staff members were allegedly involved in sexual relationships with male club members, for which one of them was fired. The performance of the second employee started to deteriorate rapidly, says Grainger. She would play squash with a “prominent” club member, and then they would disappear together—she was working about 24 hours a week at the club instead of the usual 40. She was also allegedly paid by the same male club member “not for squash.”

According to Grainger, a third squash staffer complained she was “sexually assaulted” by a club member at one of his “personal residences.”

Additionally, in one instance, Grainger claims she had to intervene because a female colleague had been drugged while out on a date with a member. Also, in discussing a “lineup” of women they had picked out for the evening’s “fun,” some of the male members allegedly circulated a “sext” of one of the staffers.

According to her lawsuit, Grainger was fired by the club after she called out the harassment to several officials there.

The lawsuit claims that, according to its own policies, the club was required to investigate Grainger’s claims and protect her as a whistleblower. Instead, she was allegedly told by the club’s head of security, the head of human resources, and by Nevin that she should not have raised her concerns with club officials or board members. The club’s New York City attorneys, at Gordon Rees Scully Mansukhani, did not reply to my requests for comment, and a voice mail message left for the club’s current executive director went unreturned as did a message left on Christiana’s work voice mail.

What you don’t read on W.C.C.’s Web site is just as important as what you do read.

Grainger’s complaint, filed in March in the Southern District of New York, seeks an acknowledgement that the behavior at the club violated the law and that it will no longer be tolerated. It also asked for a jury trial and an unspecified amount of compensatory and punitive damages for Grainger, who was paid $209,187 in 2019, according to the club’s 990 form. (Her boss, Nevin, made $561,794 in 2019.) To become a member of the Westchester Country Club, which was founded in 1922, you have to pay a $170,000 initiation fee, and $15,000 a year in dues.

A Clubbable Coach

There wasn’t always such a chill between Grainger and Westchester Country Club. According to her complaint, she was hired in 2018 as the first female director of the squash program in the club’s nearly 100-year history. Born in Manchester, England, and raised in South Africa, Grainger, now 45 years old, was a squash prodigy who turned pro at age 19. In addition to a long list of other achievements, she’s won three U.S. Open singles championships and five consecutive Women’s National singles championships, and has routinely been ranked the top women’s player in the world. For eight years, she was president of WISPA, the Women’s International Squash Players Association.

She also spent nearly six years as the coach of the U.S. Women’s National Team and nine years as coach of the Junior Women’s National Team. In 2011, the U.S. Olympic Committee named Grainger its National Coach of the Year. In other words, she is not only one of the best squash players in the world, she is also one of the best squash coaches in the world.

In 2010, she stopped playing professional squash and married Peer Pedersen Jr., a co-founder of Blue Orchid Capital, a Greenwich, Connecticut, hedge fund. It was the second marriage for both.

Grainger and Pedersen, a former investment banker at both Donaldson, Lufkin & Jenrette and Kidder, Peabody & Co., are members of the Apawamis Club, a rival Rye country club. Both “own wood” there, as is said among the club set, meaning that they have won club championships in various sports and their names are on wood plaques on the wall. Grainger has won the club championship in golf—you read that right; according to a fellow Apawamis Club member, she doesn’t compete in squash tournaments there because she’d win too easily—and Pedersen has won the club championship in squash doubles, playing alongside Tom Seaver, the late New York Mets Hall of Fame pitcher.

Grainger was allegedly asked to resign after she complained to Mark Christiana, the club’s board chairman, and Tom Nevin, its C.O.O.

For a few years, Grainger was the Apawamis touring squash pro, and, later, she became racquets director at Chelsea Piers in Stamford, Connecticut. When she started working at Chelsea Piers, in 2011, there was no squash program. When she left, six years later, there were more than 500 squash members.

Having Grainger join Westchester Country Club after all that—she was hired out of a pool of some 70 applicants—was considered quite a coup for the club. “I think that the Westchester people were very happy to have her,” a longtime member of Apawamis tells me. “You know, they could tout that ‘hey, we have this spectacular woman as our teaching pro.’” It was also a reunion of sorts: Pedersen’s late father was a longtime member of Westchester Country Club, and Pedersen himself played sports there regularly as a kid.

As squash director at W.C.C., Grainger was responsible for overseeing all levels of instruction, junior programs, tournaments, scheduling, budgeting, the squash facilities, and the club’s retail squash shop. She was also responsible for managing a staff of squash professionals.

Excitement about squash at Westchester exploded, as did interest in pickleball, which Grainger introduced to the club. She also became co-director of pickleball, entitling her to 50 percent of the club’s annual pickleball revenues. She knew the squash coaches at the top colleges and universities, and helped the club members’ children get into those schools. “You could grow cobwebs in those courts before she came,” explained someone who is familiar with the impact that Grainger had on the club.

But, according to the lawsuit, things started going awry at Westchester when Grainger noticed that her employees were being harassed. She finally brought it to Nevin’s attention in late 2021, but her complaints to him were met with resistance. So, on March 7, 2022, she wrote a letter of complaint to Christiana, the board chairman, detailing her employees’ “dalliances.” A week later, the club responded by asking Grainger to resign. Otherwise, Nevin allegedly told her, she would be fired “for cause” and “publicly embarrassed.” Grainger felt she was the “victim of retaliation” and that she was being punished for alerting top brass about the club’s problems. (She also claimed that the club engaged in “gender discrimination,” because there were so few female officials.) On March 25, she wrote to club officials that she refused to resign.

As Nevin had promised, the club fired her for cause, claiming she had held a junior tournament and had helped a local school without the club’s permission. She responded that both had been approved by club officials and that the reasons given for her dismissal were “obviously false.” She claims that the club officials also said they had “lost faith” in her, without providing any specifics.

Her complaints to Nevin were met with resistance—he allegedly told her she would be fired “for cause” and “publicly embarrassed.”

Subsequent to her firing, Grainger claims, she discovered a few other startling allegations, which she included in her complaint: the wife of a Westchester Country Club board member told her that a club member had raped one of her squash colleagues; the club had put together a dossier to use against Grainger if she brought claims against the club; she was the only club official furloughed during the coronavirus; and the club was refusing to reimburse her for $50,000 worth of squash merchandise she had bought to sell in the club’s shop. And though this isn’t necessarily a crime, Grainger also said that she had been replaced at the club by a “less-qualified man,” who “moonlights” as a disc jockey.

Around the Rye club scene, opinions on Grainger’s lawsuit are split. Some are mystified about why she would sue in the first place, considering she likely doesn’t need the job or the money that Westchester paid her. Others figure she did it to stand up for her less secure colleagues. Someone familiar with Grainger’s thinking told me that she decided to take action because the bad behavior at the club had gotten out of control: “It was born primarily of her fear that there were enough people there that were doing things that she came to realize were really more than just little club-like skirmishes … and dalliances, and that they were much more predatory, and therefore she needed to draw a line in the sand.” This person added that Grainger did not think she was risking her job at the club when she wrote her letter to club officials: “She thought she was doing the right thing.”

Grainger is also a golf champion at the Apawamis Club, where she’s too skilled to compete in squash.

Others, though, suspect that Grainger is making the whole thing up, as one of her former employees is now engaged to be married to the club member she had been dating. “I saw them playing together as a doubles team in December,” one Apawamis Club member tells me. He says he was surprised to see that she was referenced in Grainger’s March complaint: “That had me scratching my head.”

Confusion abounds about why the club would let the matter get this far without some sort of settlement being arranged, as usually happens in such matters. Instead, there have been a rash of embarrassing stories in the Daily Mail and the New York Post about what allegedly transpired, painting Westchester Country Club as a staid den of impropriety. According to the Apawamis Club member, “the Westchester guys are hugely pissed.... They’re like, ‘Why would she do this to us? Why does our club have to be in the press?… Why couldn’t they have worked this out in some way so it didn’t get into the newspaper?” Perhaps there hasn’t been a settlement because Westchester Country Club considers Grainger’s claims baseless.

The club has not yet responded to Grainger’s complaint, and has asked the judge for an extension until the end of April to do so. Grainger’s attorney, Valdi Licul, at Wigdor, declined to make Grainger available for an interview and declined to comment further beyond what is in the complaint.

As it turns out, this isn’t Grainger and Pedersen’s first legal rodeo. A few years ago, in April 2019, they sued Deborah Greene and her company, LiveaMoment, in the U.S. District Court in Delaware.

They had invested $250,000 in Greene’s company after Pedersen’s brother-in-law, who worked at the hedge fund Citadel, introduced the couple to her through a series of dinner and breakfast meetings. According to Pedersen and Grainger’s lawsuit against Greene, she had represented herself as a “visionary new business founder” who was launching a mindfulness app.

But the Pedersens’ money was lost, and they sued for fraud. The lawsuit continued for some 15 months, and then, in July 2020, the case was dismissed “with prejudice.” No money changed hands, and each litigant paid his or her own legal fees.

It’s unclear whether the outcome in the Westchester Country Club case will be similar, or if the club will settle with Grainger out of court—that’s often how these things end, and the consensus seems to be that it’s what will happen here. One thing is certain, though: when it comes to big-money propositions such as investing in start-ups and working at exclusive country clubs, trust might not be the best policy.

William D. Cohan is a Writer at Large for AIR MAIL and the author of such best-selling books as The Last Tycoons, House of Cards, and The Price of Silence. He is a founding partner of Puck. His latest book, Power Failure, is out now