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By Scott MacDonald
June 14, 2010
8:16 PM

Filed under News

New details emerge in Penguin sexual harassment scandal

Though the media frenzy surrounding the sexual harassment charges brought against former Penguin Canada president David Davidar by former employee Lisa Rundle may have abated somewhat, new details have come to light that paint a damning picture of what allegedly went on within the company.

Davidar, Rundle, and Penguin Canada are not talking to the press at the moment, but one of Rundle’s more damaging claims against Penguin – outlined in a 19-page legal filing sent to Q&Q by Rundle’s lawyer, Bobbi Olsen – is that the company’s human resources department was aware of prior sexual harassment by Davidar of at least one other employee, former executive assistant Samantha Francis. (Francis, who still works in the industry, gave Q&Q permission to run her name in this article.)

According to the claim, in summer 2008 Francis filed a complaint against Davidar with vice-president of human resources Ann Wood, and also forwarded the complaint to Allan Reynolds, president and CEO of Pearson Canada, Penguin Canada’s parent company. Rundle goes on to state that Davidar showed her a copy of Francis’s complaint and told her that Francis had since “come to her senses” and recanted. Shortly after this conversation, Francis was promoted to paperwork editor, reporting directly to executive editor of fiction Nicole Winstanley. Approximately six to eight months following the promotion, Francis left the company.

If the statements in Rundle’s claim are accurate, her own harassment started in 2007 when Davidar began singling her out with leering and suggestive comments. His behaviour escalated in 2008, when, on several occasions, he purportedly phoned her late at night from outside her home asking to be let in. Rundle says that Davidar later began sending inappropriate e-mails and text messages. The harassment allegedly culminated at last year’s Frankfurt Book Fair, when Davidar is said to have pushed his way into Rundle’s hotel room and forcibly kissed her.

According to the claim, Rundle formally aired her complaints after being promoted to director of digital publishing and foreign rights in January 2010. Though the position came with an increase in responsibilities and salary, it also put her in a direct reporting relationship to Davidar, which she claims led to increased incidences of harassment. Consequently, Rundle asked in March to be released from the new position and returned to her old one, reporting to publisher Nicole Winstanley.

Several days later, Rundle claims she met with Wood, who told her she had misunderstood Davidar’s conduct. Later that day, Rundle was called to Davidar’s office ostensibly so that he could apologize, but instead, Rundle alleges, he simply told her that her job was not in jeopardy.

Unhappy with the company’s lack of action, Rundle obtained legal counsel and went back to Penguin with her concerns about Davidar on May 13. Later that day, Rundle alleges that she was notified of her termination and offered six months severance plus benefits and a small bonus.

Rundle is now claiming $422,910 against Penguin for wrongful dismissal and $100,000 in damages against Davidar. According to the claim, “her dismissal was retaliatory to her making a sexual harassment complaint … and thus wrongful.”

For its part, Penguin released a brief statement Friday saying, “Ms. Rundle was not terminated by Penguin Canada, but rather she advised the company of her decision to leave after having declined to pursue other career opportunities within the organization.”

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