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Fired Penguin CEO says 'flirtatious' relationship consensual Add to ...

Their offices were next to each other. She invited him to her club to play tennis. They went to lunch, they went to the theatre. He read poetry to her. He saw her as his closest friend and confidante, and then he kissed her, not once but twice, at the Frankfurt book fair.

This is the version of events released in a statement Sunday by former Penguin Canada CEO David Davidar in response to a $523,000 wrongful dismissal and sexual harassment lawsuit launched by former employee Lisa Rundle against Penguin and Mr. Davidar. Ms. Rundle claims she was assaulted by Mr. Davidar, then fired for spurning his advances and complaining about his treatment of her. The allegations have not been proven in court.

In a media release issued by his lawyer Peter Downard Sunday, Mr. Davidar said the two shared a "consensual, flirtatious relationship that grew out of a close friendship." He denies the sexual harassment accusation and denies assaulting anyone.

The relationship with Ms. Rundle, former director of digital publishing and foreign rights for Penguin Canada, began in late 2005, he said, and became flirtatious. They had a shared love of tennis, sent one another personal e-mails and exchanged gifts, Mr. Davidar claims.

In 2007, Mr. Davidar, who is married, suggested their relationship should become more romantic. Ms. Rundle wanted their relationship to be public, not secret, the statement claims, and so it continued as it had been. Mr. Davidar says he asked if she liked the attention he paid her and she said she did.

In October, 2009, Ms. Rundle alleges that Mr. Davidar assaulted her in her hotel room when they travelled to the Frankfurt book fair. Ms. Rundle's claim states Mr. Davidar turned up at her door wearing excessive cologne, with buttons on his shirt undone to his waist.

She said she stood in the door with her arms folded and asked what he wanted. He asked her to let him in and she refused. Ms. Rundle claims she was forced to climb a windowsill to avoid him and again asked him to leave. "He forcibly pulled her off the ledge and grabbed her by the wrists, forcing his tongue into her mouth," her statement says.

Mr. Davidar says in his statement that he did not force himself upon her nor did she object to the kiss. Two days later they kissed again in his hotel room, Mr. Davidar claims.

"Ms. Rundle subsequently told Mr. Davidar that she had enjoyed their kisses in Frankfurt, whether or not they were ever repeated. She did nothing to convey to Mr. Davidar that his attention was unwanted," Mr. Davidar's statement says.

Later that year, Ms. Rundle sent Mr. Davidar a Christmas gift of "cream-filled biscuits," and at other times gave him chocolates, pastries a scarf and socks, the statement says.

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.

In February, a few months after the death of his father, Mr. Davidar claims he assessed his life and decided his personal relationship with Ms. Rundle could not continue. He says he told her their relationship should be strictly business.

He claims she was treated well from 2005 to 2010, receiving good assignments and regular promotions, and never brought her harassment allegations to the company.

"Mr. Davidar was at pains to remind her from time to time that no matter what happened between them on the personal front, Ms. Rundle's professional career with Penguin would never suffer. This was the case," the statement says.

Mr. Davidar also said he engaged in "flirtatious banter" with his former executive assistant Samantha Francis, but denied any conduct that "he knew or should have known was unwelcome."

In the wake of Ms. Rundle's lawsuit, Ms. Francis issued a statement of support last week for Ms. Rundle. Mr. Davidar said that he was told by Ms. Francis in 2007 that she wanted to withdraw a claim she had made to Penguin's human resources department about comments he had made. He claims her view then was that the department had "incorrectly understood" her complaint. She later wrote a note saying a personal misunderstanding had been resolved, he claims, and that she wanted it removed from Mr. Davidar's record.

She also asked him to act as a reference last month, he claims.

The statement concludes by saying: "David Davidar is happily married. He deeply regrets the trouble that has been visited upon his wife in recent days. He apologizes to her."

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