Penguin rehires woman at centre of sexual-harassment lawsuit

July 7, 2010

The little-known Canadian publishing executive who launched a sexual-harassment suit heard round the world has won a decisive victory, clearing her name and recovering the job she left in tears just more than a month ago.

Not only will famed litigant Lisa Rundle resume her job as director of rights and contracts for Penguin Canada, she will have the satisfaction of reporting to a new boss the company appointed Wednesday to replace David Davidar, the former president it quietly fired last month.

"The general feeling inside the organization was that would be both a good thing to do commercially and a very decent thing to do ethically," Penguin Group chairman John Makinson told The Globe and Mail in a telephone interview from London, praising Ms. Rundle as "a very good rights director."

"She wanted to continue to work in the industry and Penguin was the obvious place for her to work," Mr. Makinson added. "And we had settled all our differences with her as part of the general release of liabilities that was agreed to yesterday."

Until then, Ms. Rundle had been suing both Penguin and Mr. Davidar for $523,000, alleging that the company fired her after she complained about the president's persistent unwanted advances. The lawsuit emerged in the immediate aftermath of Penguin's announcement that Mr. Davidar was leaving the company for personal reasons.

While Penguin subsequently admitted it had fired Mr. Davidar, the India-born executive issued a statement contradicting Ms. Rundle's claims and suggesting she had sought revenge for his decision to end what the statement described as "a consensual flirtatious relationship." But this week he too abandoned the fight.

"All allegations have been addressed and all matters resolved to the satisfaction of all parties," Peter Downard, Mr. Davidar's lawyer, wrote in an e-mail. All parties have agreed not to discuss the settlement publicly, he added.

Neither Ms. Rundle nor her lawyer, Bobbi Olsen, responded to requests for comment on the matter.

But Penguin had a lot to say, beginning with the announcement it had appointed long-time company executive Mike Bryan - currently president of Penguin India, which Mr. Davidar ran before coming to Toronto - to assume the presidency of its Canadian branch. At the same time, the company announced the establishment of a new board to bolster its commitment to a native publishing program.

Comprising three Penguin executives and an as-yet unnamed chair described as "a Canadian with senior experience in the media and publishing industries," the new Penguin Canada Board will assume responsibility for the company's overall strategy, according to Mr. Makinson.

"This is not just presentational, this is a substantive appointment," he said. "We wanted to find ways to demonstrate the commitment we have to publishing in Canada."

An earlier announcement that Mr. Davidar's replacement would report to Penguin USA president David Shanks had raised concern about the autonomy of the multinational company's Canadian branch. The reality, according to Mr. Makinson, is that "no publishing company in the country has been more committed to working with Canadian authors and Canadian publishing series than we have been in recent years."

At the same time, he added, the new Penguin Canada president "will work very closely with David [Shanks]to make the most of those close links to the U.S. we had talked about."

Mr. Bryan, the new Penguin Canada president, has been with the company since 1980 and is well respected in publishing circles, according to former Penguin Canada president Cynthia Good, currently head of the publishing program at Humber College in Toronto.

"I will always prefer a Canadian in a lead role for a Canadian publisher - and I think of Penguin as a Canadian publisher even if they are multi-ationally owned," she said. "But I know Mike Bryan and I like him a lot."

In company with other observers, Ms. Good was pleased and surprised to see Ms. Rundle taken back on board. "Lisa was always so good at her job and so good for the company," she said.

The reinstatement "reflects well on both Lisa and Penguin," according to literary agent Jackie Kaiser. "I never would have predicted that, but I think it's kind of cool."

With the Davidar scandal in the past, industry chatter currently centres on the identity of the mystery figure who will be flying the maple leaf as chair of the new Penguin Canada bard. Names bandied about include Avie Bennett, former owner of McClelland and Stewart publishers, Robert Rabinovitch, former president of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, Anna Porter, former president of Key Porter publishers, William Thorsell, former director of the Royal Ontario Museum, and John Ralston Saul, long-time Penguin author and former viceregal consort.

The appointment will be announced "in the coming weeks," according to Mr. Makinson.

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