IT manager sues Perot over comments allegedly made to vetting agency
A computer services company, at the centre of a £10m claim for defamation and breach of contract, claims it was misled when an employment vetting agency approached it for background information on a former senior IT manager.
Perot Systems claims that an investigator from Zephon Employee Screening persuaded one of its staff to discuss Michael Johnson, who had been its IBM platform manager, by giving the misleading impression it would assist in a police investigation.
Zephon made an "inaccurate and extremely misleading" record of a conversation, with a senior Perot manager, misrepresented his comments, and used them to compile a damaging vetting report on Johnson, the firm claims in documents disclosed in court.
Johnson claims the Zephon report destroyed his employment prospects and cost him his job as a vice-president and project manager at Deutsche Bank. He is suing Perot for £10m in damages for slander, breach of contract and negligence.
Zephon claims to quote "off the record" comments from Simon Hull, global systems manager at Perot Systems, describing Johnson's time at Perot as the "most horrendous episode" in his working life and giving details of an alleged fraud involving Johnson and Abbey National.
Hull initially denied any recollection of his conversation with Zephon, but in a statement disclosed in court, he accused the firm of misquoting him, taking inaccurate notes and misrepresenting the conversation.
According to the 17-page document, an investigator from Zephon, later identified as a Mr Davies, phoned Hull on his mobile phone at work sometime between January and March 2001.
"Mr Davies told me that he was a private investigator and intimated that he was assisting the police in an investigation. He told me that he could not disclose exactly for whom he worked but that his company often worked for the policeÉ At no time did Mr Davies say he worked for an employment screening agency," Hull said.
Davies allegedly told Hull that Johnson was under investigation for involvement in an alleged fraud against Abbey National and suggested that his enquiries had built up a picture of Johnson as being an "unsavoury character", the witness statement claims.
But Hull, who also goes by the name of Browning-Hull, said the suggestion that he volunteered a lot of information about Johnson to Zephon was "totally incorrect" and claimed that comments he did make were inaccurately reported. "I am quoted as saying that working with Mr Johnson 'was the most horrendous episode that I have experienced in my working life'. This is not trueÉ what I said was that the day on which Mr Johnson's employment was terminated was the most horrendous episode of my working life, and it was," he said.
Hull denied making other comments recorded in the Zephon report, including claims that Johnson had "repeatedly" fallen foul of company share trading rules, and that his performance at Perot did not support his previous job experience.
He also specifically denied claims that he had volunteered any information about Johnson's role in an alleged fraud against Abbey National. "I agreed that I had heard rumours that Mr Johnson had problems getting a loan and/or mortgage, but I simply did not have the level of detail which Mr Davies attributes to me in his telephone attendance note."
Johnson is bringing a separate action against Abbey National after the bank wrongly accused him and his wife of trying to fraudulently obtain a bank account.
Abbey National mistakenly issued a warning about Johnson, identifying him as a potential fraudster, on the Credit Industry Fraud Avoidance database, which is widely used by major employers for assessing credit and checking the backgrounds of staff, court documents alleged.
A discrepancy in Johnson's application for a bank account, caused by an Abbey National employee mis-typing the application form, sparked a formal fraud investigation by Abbey National, Johnson claims.
Perot Systems failed in an application to have Johnson's claim for damages struck out in a court hearing on 20 June, after the judge ruled that the case had a sufficient prospect of success to go ahead.
Perot, Zephon, Deutsche Bank, Abbey National and Johnson declined to comment.
How it happened
26 August 1999 Perot Systems dismisses Johnson
20 October 1999 Abbey National mistakenly places a warning about Johnson on an industry database branding him as a potential fraudster, Johnson claims
2 November 2000 Deutsche Bank offers Johnson a £62,000 job as technical manager and assistant vice-president
16 November 2000 Deutsche Bank instructs Zephon Employee Screening to vet Johnson
January-March 2001 Zephon phones Simon Hull, Johnson's former manager at Perot, seeking information on Johnson
17 March 2001 Johnson takes sick leave, with flu, stress and depression
1 June 2001 Deutsche Bank receives the final screening report from Zephon containing damaging comments attributed to Hull
28 September 2001 Deutsche Bank terminates Johnson's employment
8 May 2002 Hull reads the comments attributed to him in the Zephon report and is "absolutely astounded"
24 May 2002 Perot's solicitors state that Hull has no recollection of a conversation with Zephon about a formal job reference
23 January 2003 Hull produces a 17-page statement recounting his conversation with Zephon and accusing the company of misreporting him.