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Former aide to Davidar supports sexual harassment complainant

David Davidar, formerly of Penguin Canada, photographed in Penguin's Toronto offices in 2003.

John Morstad/The Globe and Mail

A former personal assistant to fired Penguin Canada president David Davidar has denied controversial statements her former boss made in a weekend statement about his relationship with her.

Samantha Francis also reiterated her support for Lisa Rundle, a former Penguin colleague who launched a lawsuit claiming Mr. Davidar had sexually harassed and assaulted her during her employment, and that Penguin had fired her for complaining about it.

The weekend statement, drafted by Mr. Davidar's lawyer, Peter Downard, said that Ms. Francis voluntarily withdrew a complaint about her boss long before leaving Penguin.

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"I think there's a lot implied in the fact that I've supported Lisa," Ms. Francis said in reply, adding that she has formally retained Ms. Rundle's lawyer, Bobbi Olsen, to represent her in the case.

Mr Davidar's statement said that Ms. Rundle freely consented to a romantic relationship with her boss and turned against him only when he decided to break it off.

"David Davidar is happily married," it said, adding that the former publisher "deeply regrets" the hurt that the scandal has caused to his wife, Rachna.

"He apologizes to her," the former publisher's lawyer wrote.

The statement also described a "flirtatious" relationship Mr. Davidar had cultivated with Ms. Francis before his involvement with Ms. Rundle, which the latter cited in her lawsuit to suggest a pattern of harassment.

Mr. Davidar "did not engage in any conduct toward Ms. Francis that he knew or should have known was unwelcome," it said, adding that his former assistant had willingly withdrawn an "enquiry" she made to the company's human resources department regarding "comments made by Mr. Davidar" in 2007.

She never complained further, according to the statement, and Mr. Davidar provided her with an employment reference only last month.

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Ms. Francis disputed Mr. Davidar's version of the events, but declined further comment.

Ms. Francis would not say whether she is planning to launch her own lawsuit. "Both women have avoided direct interviews and have no intention of changing that position, despite their obvious denial of his account," Ms. Olsen said yesterday in a brief written statement. "They are confident in the ability of the court to adjudicate the matter, and are endeavouring to confine their personal stories to that forum."

Aiming directly at Ms. Rundle and Ms. Francis, Mr. Davidar's weekend statement made no mention of Penguin's decision to fire the publisher over the sexual harassment allegations. Both he and the company initially called his departure consensual and amicable, but Mr. Davidar later revealed the real reason he lost his job. Despite his detailed rebuttals of the complaints, Mr. Davidar has yet to publicly dispute his firing.

His lawyer, Mr. Downard, declined to comment about the statement he issued to selected media on Sunday, saying the extraordinary gesture was necessary because "the claimant's counsel has facilitated media coverage of the claim."

Penguin Canada lawyer Derek Rogers did not respond to a request for comment.

Company spokesman Yvonne Hunter also declined comment, saying the company plans to announce Mr. Davidar's replacement soon. Until then, and for an indefinite period thereafter, she added, Penguin Canada will be managed by Penguin USA president David Shanks.

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"I just think that makes sense in the circumstances," she said.

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