Officials of Bendix Corp. yesterday rejected a request for a temporary leave of absence by executive Mary E. Cunningham and urged her to stay on the job, despite rumors that her rapid rise in the company stemmed from a romance with company Chairman William Agee.

The organization committee of Bendix's board of directors voted unanimously yesterday evening to reject Cunningham's request for an "immmediate but temporary" leave of absence.

The committee said it had "complete confidence" in Cunningham, adding it would be "unjust" for the corporation to respond to "speculation in the media" by accepting her request, a Bendix statement said.

Mary Cunningham, 29, whose meteoric rise at the giant auto industry supplier was capped last week by a promotion to vice president of strategic planning, said Sunday she is requesting a leave because "false innuendoes" had made it impossible for her to do her job.

Cunningham cited malicious rumors linking her romantically with Bendix Chairman Willian Agee, 42, in asking for the "immediate but temporary" leave but insisted she would not resign.

A Wellesley College honors student and Harvard Business School graduate, Cunningham came to Bendix 15 months ago as Agee's executive assistant.

But in a letter to Agee and the company's board of directors, Cunningham said the attention focused on the romantic rumors had affected her ability to do her job and could harm the company.

"As a result of media coverage, I have received in recent days, I have been placed in an impossible position," her three-page letter said. "As a result of the false innuendoes and excessive attention given to this promotion, I have been rendered ineffective at this point in time."

Cunningham had said her leave request "should not be construed in any sense as tantamount to resignation, for I have rejected outright that option as not being in the best interests of the company, other women or myself."

However, she said, "If I remain with the company in my current position, I will continue to distract attention from the most important story of Bendix, which is clearly the launching of a strategy which will make this company even stronger than it has been in the past."

In a statement before the vote of confidence in Cunningham, Agee had said he and company officials "deeply regret" her move but "fully understand and appreciate she is acting in the very best interests of the company."

Before being named to the strategic planning post, she was vice president for corporate and public relations. Agree, a father of three, was divorced last summer. Cunningham is separated from her husband.