Canadian sex scandal rocks publishing world. No, really!
Sex scandals are the province of politicians and televangelists, not publishers. Rarer still: any news at all out of staid, quiet Canada. Behold: David Davidar, president of Penguin Canada, has been chased out of his job by lurid charges of sexual harassment.
As recently as Wednesday, Davidar was telling Quille & Quire that he resigned from Penguin Canada’s top spot–after only six months– to return to India. The author of two well-regarded novels, The House of Blue Mangoes (2002) and The Solitude of Emperors (2007), Davidar said he wanted more time to write.
That same day, however, former Penguin Canada foreign rights manager Lisa Rundle filed a lawsuit with the Ontario Superior Court, claiming she was fired after reporting sexual harassment by Davidar. She’s asking $423,000 from Penguin for “wrongful dismissal,” according to the Toronto Globe and Mail, and she’s suing Davidar personally for $100,000.
By Friday Penguin released a statement confirming that Davidar had not quit voluntarily, though no mention was made of sexual harassment. Yet Penguin’s statement did challenge Rundle’s assertion she’d been fired, saying instead that “she advised the company of her decision to leave after having declined to pursue other career opportunities within the organization.”
That sounds weaselly to me, too — an impression reinforced by the details of Rundle’s side of the story. She claims Davidar pursued her for three years with “inappropriate text messages, leering and stalking,” according to the Express News Service.
According to the Sepia Mutiny blogsite, Davidar’s attentions became “more intense” as time went by, allegedly writing emails saying he “could do very little except think of [Ms. Rundle],” that she was “utterly gorgeous,” “a vision in pink sipping a champagne cocktail,” and that she should not be “stubborn” or “fight” him.
Davidar’s alleged seduction campaign culminated in October at the Frankfurt Book Fair, according to the Globe and Mail, when he showed up at her hotel room “wearing excessive cologne, with buttons on his shirt undone down his waist.” Davidar “bullied” his way into the room, where “he grabbed her by the wrists, forcing his tongue into her mouth.”
Rundle claims she formally complained to Penguin in January, after she received a promotion that made Davidar her direct supervisor. She asked to be returned to her old post, at a loss of salary, but she was told she had “misunderstood” Davidar’s conduct. Unsatisfied, she hired a lawyer on May 13, according to Quille and Quire. Later that day, she claims, Penguin fired her.
Once details of Rundle’s suit emerged, the course of the scandal fell into a familiar pattern. Davidar characterized his relationship with Rundle as a “friendship,” according to The Bookseller, adding he was “utterly shocked” at the charges. “I intend to defend the allegations vigorously in the courts,” he intoned, as if reading from Sex Scandals for Dummies, “and I am certain that the truth will prevail.”
Davidar’s wife of 15 years, Rachna, told the Toronto Star that she plans to stand by her man: “We’ll get through this together.”
Yesterday Quille and Quire reported that an earlier sexual harassment complaint had emerged. A former Penguin Canada, executive assistant, Samantha Francis, filed a sexual complaint against Davidar in 2008 with the company’s own human resources department.
In India, where Davidar is highly regarded both as a writer and as the distinguished former head of Penguin India, the English-language press as been ablaze with the scandal, according to this Toronto Star story. While most of the Indian bloggers, journalists and publishing executives take pains to be respectful to Rundle, the Davidar they know is a man of integrity.
Blogger “Akhond of Swat” says she’s a feminist who knows how hard it is for a woman to come forward as Rundle has. “But I’ve known David Davidar for about 15 years, as a colleague who was once–for a eight-month period–my boss when I was a very small cog in publishing…And these charges seem at odds with the man most of us know–definitely at odds with the man I grew to know and respect.”
Sad and sordid as all this is, the Canadian publishing and literary establishment is probably relieved it’s nothing but a sex scandal. When Davidoff’s abrupt departure was first announced, “industry insiders” expresssed dismay, as reported by the Globe and Mail, fearing it signalled “a retreat from the company’s commitment to Canadian publishing.”
Nope, nothing so dire, though much, much spicier.