Penguin and Davidar settle out of court: UPDATED

July 6, 2010 by · 8 Comments 

According to an article in today’s Globe and Mail, the sexual harassment suit that cost ex-Penguin Canada head David Davidar his job last month has been settled out of court:

“We can now advise that all allegations have been addressed and all matters resolved to the satisfaction of all parties,” Peter Downard, lawyer to former Penguin executive David Davidar, wrote in an e-mail. “None of the parties will be commenting further to the media.”

Penguin spokesman Yvonne Hunter confirmed the news. “Everything has been settled,” she said, adding that the company expects to follow the news by announcing the name of Penguin Canada’s new president Wednesday morning.

The undisclosed settlement puts an end to the legal side of this unfortunate incident. However, the voices that have been raised as a result of this whole affair should not be forgotten or ignored, and if there is an institutional culture that condones the behaviour alleged to have transpired at Penguin, it should be addressed now, before the entire industry is forced to undergo a repeat of this sad chapter in its history.

UPDATE, July 7, 2010: A press release from Penguin Group (Canada) today announced that Mike Bryan, the CEO of Penguin India since 2007, has been appointed president of Penguin Canada:

Mike Bryan is one of the most senior and experienced members of Penguin’s international team, having served as International Sales and Marketing Director for Penguin for both the U.K. and U.S. and, most recently, as President of Penguin India.  Mike was fundamental to the development of Penguin’s international operations, setting up companies in the Netherlands, Germany, France, Italy, and Spain.  He also started Penguin Singapore and Malaysia.  He will transfer to Toronto and will take up responsibility in August, reporting to David Shanks.

In case Canadian authors, agents, and industry watchers are disappointed that the new president does not hail from this country, the release goes on to state that “Penguin Canada expects to appoint a Canadian with senior experience in the media and publishing industries to the position of Chairman of a newly formed Penguin Canada Board, which will have responsibility for the company’s overall strategy.”

More significantly, as Claire Cameron points out in the comments section of this post, Lisa Rundle, the ex-Penguin staffer whose sexual harassment suit precipitated David Davidar’s ouster, has been restored to her old position as rights and contracts director.

As for Bryan, he is largely an unknown quantity here in Canada. Live Mint (a website run by The Wall Street Journal) published a profile of Bryan back in 2008. The article offers some background for people in this country who are unfamiliar with Bryan’s history.

He holds a degree in business studies from Liverpool John Moores University, and worked as a bookseller before joining Penguin in 1980. One of Bryan’s stated goals at Penguin India was to find a domestic writer capable of achieving the international stature and sales of a Tom Clancy or a Dan Brown. Of the latter writer, Live Mint quotes Bryan as saying, “How can you look down on Dan Brown when he has sold so many books?”

Bryan’s taste in wine is perhaps slightly more refined: he professes an affinity for Sula Sauvignon Blanc and Brunello di Montalcino from Tuscany.

According to Live Mint, Bryan was not much of a reader as a boy:

“I didn’t read very much till I was 16,” he says. “And then I started going out with a girl who read a lot. She had this wall of orange. I suddenly realized that girls found boys who read very attractive.” It turned out to be a lasting affair – not with the book lover he was dating, but with books. And, also, it appears, with a certain book publisher. The wall in his old flame’s room was orange because it was lined with Penguin paperbacks with their distinctive orange spines.

Some years passed, and books also brought Bryan and his wife, Heather Adams, together. He was working as a manager in a bookstore in the north of England and she was the “Saturday girl” there – which means, he explains, that she came to work only on Saturdays.

That “thumping” sound you hear is yr. humble correspondent banging his head repeatedly against his desk.

Davidar speaks out in his own defence

June 21, 2010 by · 2 Comments 

Because I agree with Alex Good’s comment expressing dissatisfaction with the way ex-Penguin Canada executive David Davidar has been tried and more or less found guilty in the media without having had a chance to provide a defence to the accusations levelled against him, and because I myself have commented previously on only one half of this story, I feel it is incumbent upon me to point to Davidar’s statement of defence, released yesterday through his lawyer, Peter Downard.

Davidar’s statement says that he and ex-colleague Lisa Rundle shared a “consensual, flirtatious relationship that grew out of a close friendship,” and he denies any sexual harassment or wrongdoing. In contrast to Rundle’s statement of claim, filed in court on June 10, which alleges that Davidar “over time became more and more intense with his persistent protestations of lust and desire … and in return she became increasingly disturbed and afraid,” Davidar’s statement insists that Rundle was receptive to his advances, and that she “did nothing to convey to Mr. Davidar that his attention was unwanted.” On the contrary, the statement asserts that whenever Davidar inquired as to whether Rundle “liked the attention he was paying her,” she replied in the affirmative.

Contradicting Rundle’s claim that Davidar bullied his way into her hotel room in Frankfurt last October and forcibly kissed her, yesterday’s statement suggests that Rundle let him into her room voluntarily and acquiesced to his kiss. The statement goes even further, stating that a second kiss occurred in Davidar’s own hotel room the next night, following a dinner the two shared. According to Davidar’s statement, “Ms. Rundle subsequently told Mr. Davidar that she had enjoyed their kisses in Frankfurt, whether or not they were ever repeated.”

The Globe and Mail states that Rundle presented Davidar with a Christmas gift later that year, and goes on:

She went to his office to watch the Australian Open tennis in January of this year, particularly when their favourite player, Roger Federer, was on television. Ms. Rundle then requested a raise, he claims, even though salaries at Penguin were frozen. Instead, he offered her a new job title that justified a $10,000 pay increase, the statement says.

As for the other ex-Penguin employee who came forward to corroborate Rundle’s claim, Davidar says that Penguin’s human resources department “incorrectly understood” her complaint.

Rundle’s lawyer, Bobbi Olsen, responded to Davidar’s statement yesterday, saying that it “recants and reverses his two prior media assertions, with regard to the nature of his departure from Penguin and of the nature of the friendship with Ms. Rundle. By his own admission, he has lied to the media twice, and to his wife for years. He now asks that his third version of the facts be accepted as the truth. I will not comment further.”

Regardless of how closely Davidar’s statement cleaves to the truth of what actually transpired between him and Rundle, there was an obvious power imbalance that should have set warning bells ringing. Although Canadian law does not prohibit consensual sexual relationships between colleagues, it is not difficult to imagine that if a female subordinate was asked by a male superior (to whom she reports directly) whether his attention was unwanted, she would be loath to answer “yes.” Nevertheless, our justice system is predicated upon the assumption that everyone is innocent until proven guilty, and none of the allegations against Davidar have been tested in court. In the absence of due process, the media circus that has sprung up around this story is testament to our society’s baser instincts, and adds yet another distressing element to this already depressing and dispiriting saga.

Out of the shadows

June 17, 2010 by · 2 Comments 

I haven’t written any more about the David Davidar fiasco since my initial posts at the end of last week because, quite frankly, the whole affair makes me feel unutterably grimy. There have been further developments since my last post, which you can read all about on the Quill & Quire website, if you are of a mind to do so.

This post is meant to highlight something positive that has come out of a scandal that for a while there didn’t seem to have a single positive aspect about it. Earlier this week, a blog post with the title “What it Feels Like for a Girl” appeared online. The author used the Davidar scandal as a springboard for revealing her own experience with sexual harassment in the Canadian publishing industry. That post has since gone viral, getting linked by The Huffington Post and finding readers from publishing houses throughout Canada and the U.S.

Picking up where “What It Feels Like for a Girl” leaves off, novelist and publisher Stacey May Fowles has now provided what is to date the most measured, sensible, and reasonable take on the scandal, and the discussion that it has provoked:

So many of us, regardless of gender, have had a moment where we were unsure about the rules, about what is right and wrong in the workplace, and instead of talking openly about it we just follow the cues. The answers to “Am I allowed to say that? Am I allowed to do that?” are not always clear, so we, quite naturally, look to the leader. It’s easy to observe that the average intern pool is predominately female and the average publishing executive is male, that women on average make considerably less than their male counterparts, that according to reports a majority of publishing is female but only small percentage of that is management, and the power dynamics that result are undeniable. In such a small, connected industry, one rife with gossip, standing up and calling bullshit is near impossible.

I will admit that my initial reaction to “What It Feels Like for a Girl” was indignation. I did not believe that the experiences described in that post could be endemic to an industry in which the majority of workers are female (the fact that the majority of executives are male somehow escaped my notice). I no longer feel that way. The sheer volume of responses to that blog post claiming recognition and understanding have convinced me that the culture of harassment in the publishing industry is much more pervasive than I had initially imagined.

Which is why Fowles’s piece is so important. It does not convict Davidar – in fact Fowles goes out of her way to state that she is unqualified to discuss the specifics of the Davidar case. One of my own concerns throughout the past week has been that Davidar is undergoing trial by media before having had the opportunity to mount a defence – a trial in which he has already been found guilty. Fowles wisely avoids this temptation, instead focusing on the broader discussion that the fallout from this case has provoked. Bringing this discussion into the light of day is essential to anyone who wishes to avoid a repeat of the past week’s sad, divisive events.

More details emerge about Davidar’s departure from Penguin

June 12, 2010 by · 2 Comments 

Details are starting to seep out about David Davidar’s abrupt departure from the CEO position at Penguin Canada earlier this week. Although neither Davidar nor Penguin Group chairman John Makinson admitted as much when the public announcement was made on June 8, it appears that Davidar was asked to leave the company a month ago and it was agreed at the time that both parties would publicly state that the departure was voluntary. As if that wasn’t sketchy enough, news broke yesterday that Penguin’s former rights and contracts manager, Lisa Rundle, has filed a sexual harassment claim against Davidar and a wrongful termination claim against Penguin.

The Globe and Mail has released details of Rundle’s claim, which asks for $523,000 in damages – $423,000 from Penguin for wrongful termination and $100,000 from Davidar personally. According to the Globe, Rundle alleges that Davidar’s harassment occurred over a period of three years, culminating in an all-out assault in Rundle’s hotel room during last year’s Frankfurt Book Fair:

The accusations are accompanied by quotations from several e-mail messages Mr. Davidar allegedly sent to Ms. Rundle during the period in question. Last year, he is said to have written that 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 over time became more and more intense with his persistent protestations of lust and desire for Lisa,” according to the claim, “and in return she became increasingly disturbed and afraid.”

The harassment allegedly culminated in an outright assault at the Frankfurt Book Fair last October when, according to the claim, Mr. Davidar appeared at Ms. Rundle’s hotel room door, “wearing excessive cologne, with buttons on his shirt undone down his waist.”

The statement of claim goes on to say that Davidar entered Rundle’s room against her wishes and forcibly kissed her.

In a statement released (somewhat stealthily) yesterday afternoon, Penguin Canada’s vice-president of marketing and publicity, Yvonne Hunter, denied Rundle’s assertion that she was terminated, saying that she left the company voluntarily:

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.

For his part, Davidar claims in a press release to be “disappointed” that Penguin issued a public statement about the pending litigation and denies the allegations contained in Rundle’s claim:

I had a friendship with my colleague which lasted for three years. I am utterly shocked by the allegations. I am dismayed that Penguin Canada chose to respond to them by directing me to leave Penguin. I intend to defend the allegations vigorously in the courts, and I am certain that the truth will prevail.

Any way this story is parsed, it ends up reflecting badly on everyone involved. The fact that Penguin decided to attempt a cover-up about the real reasons for Davidar’s departure is sleazy in the extreme, and not terribly bright in any event (they must have known that the truth would come out the minute Rundle filed her claim, unless they thought they could somehow prevent her from doing so, which would be even worse). Rundle’s allegations have yet to be proven in court, and it seems odd that she would wait so long to file the claim, only doing so three days after Davidar’s public announcement of his departure. Her reasons for proceeding this way are her own, although it is not difficult to see how someone who experienced the kind of harassment and assault described in her affidavit could feel legitimately angry at the prospect of those events getting whitewashed in an attempt to save corporate face.

As for Davidar himself, this is one of the fastest and most dramatic tumbles from grace in recent memory. Only last year, he was tapped to head Penguin International, a new division that would oversee the company’s activities in South Africa, India, and the Middle East. Speculation ran rife at the time that Davidar was being groomed as Makinson’s successor. Now all of that is in tatters.

This entire story leaves a bad taste in the mouth, and it’s obviously too early to understand who’s at fault and who’s not. Hunter’s press release and Rundle’s affidavit are clearly contradictory: somebody is lying, and it will in all likelihood be a protracted and painful experience trying to figure out who that someone is. In the meantime, we can do little more that wait and watch this sad, sordid story unfold.

There’s more to Davidar’s departure than previously reported

June 11, 2010 by · 1 Comment 

Earlier this week, the surprise departure of David Davidar as CEO of Penguin Canada threw the publishing world into a tizzy. In a Globe and Mail article published this past Wednesday, books columnist John Barber wrote that the “tight-knit Canadian publishing industry roiled with speculation and dismay” at the news. Davidar, who was in the CEO’s chair when the company published its first Scotiabank Giller Prize–winner, Joseph Boyden’s novel Through Black Spruce, and when it debuted its prestige fiction line, Hamish Hamilton Canada, told the Globe that his departure had been “under discussion for months.” When asked by Quill & Quire why he was leaving now, Daivdar responded, “Principally, I wanted to [return to] my writing. I’ve got about six chapters of a new novel done. I wrote my previous two novels while I was working, and I wanted to see if I could give this one [a better] shot if I didn’t have a day job to go to. So my plan is to take at least a year to see if I can finish the novel.”

Well, it turns out that the situation might not be so cut and dried. According to an article published today on Publishers Weekly‘s website, Davidar faces sexual harassment charges filed by ex-colleague Lisa Rundle:

With questions swirling in Canada about the surprise resignation of Penguin Canada president David Davidar, the company issued a statement Friday afternoon announcing that Penguin’s former rights and contracts director Lisa Rundle charged Davidar with sexual harassment in an action yesterday. The statement added that Davidar was asked to leave the company last month, and while it had been unclear just when Davidar’s resignation, announced Tuesday, would become effective, Penguin said he will have no further involvement with the company.

The PW article also indicates that Rundle has filed a wrongful termination claim against Penguin.

Needless to say, this news is bound to send shockwaves through the Canadian publishing industry, and will only exacerbate the pain that Penguin was feeling this week as a result of its corporate announcement that Penguin Canada staff would henceforth report to David Shanks, head of Penguin USA in New York (something that Jackie Kaiser, a former Penguin staffer and current literary agent with the Westwood Agency told the Globe “does not reflect well on Penguin”). Whether Rundle’s complaint has merit, or is merely the product of a disgruntled ex-employee, has yet to be seen, and it should be noted that both PW and the Globe indicate that the suit was filed only on Thursday. However, Penguin’s decision to release this information on a Friday afternoon in June, when most of the publishing and media industries have summer hours, is disingenuous at best. It seems like a poor attempt to bury an unpleasant story – an attempt that has already proven futile.