Network Rail HR chief discrimination allegations investigated by Liberal Democrats

The Liberal Democrat transport spokesman has waded into the campaign against the alleged discriminatory behaviour of Network Rail’s HR director, Personnel Today has learned.

Norman Baker told the magazine he was in “correspondence” with Network Rail over the supposed actions of its HR director Peter Bennett and the 155 confidentiality agreements he is said to have signed.

The move by Baker comes as a transport union and Labour MP have called for a parliamentary inquiry into Bennett’s alleged actions.

Personnel Today previously revealed that Bennett had allegedly sacked two female workers while they were undergoing fertility treatment, asked another colleague to remove her blouse so he could see her holiday bikini lines, kissed a female employee on the back of her neck, and forced another woman to leave after calling her “a f**king black bitch”.

Following these incidents, three senior employees are thought to have been paid between £450,000 and £850,000 in compromise agreements.

In April last year, Vicky Lydford, Network Rail’s former head of HR for national functions, received £500,000 in an out-of-court settlement after she accused Bennett of race and sex discrimination.

It is also claimed that Bennett signed 155 separate confidentiality agreements over three years.

Baker said: “There are a number of payouts. The number of and level of payouts at Network Rail is a little eyebrow-raising.

“There are clearly some significant allegations which have been made in the national press. I have taken this issue up with the Network Rail chairman and chief executive and I am continuing correspondence with them about this.”

He added his next steps would depend on the outcome of his correspondence with the two leaders.

Meanwhile the Transport Salaried Staff Association (TSSA) and MP Jim Devine have written to the transport secretary Andrew Adonis calling for the launch of a parliamentary inquiry by the Transport Select Committee into Bennett.

General secretary of the TSSA Gerry Doherty, said: “Enough is enough as far as the veil of secrecy surrounding Network Rail is concerned. It should be lifted immediately.

“Like the Royal Mail and the BBC, [Network Rail] should be subject to parliamentary scrutiny and the Freedom of Information Act.”

Both the TSSA and the National Audit Office consider Network Rail to be a state-owned company, as the organisation has no board of directors of shareholders.

Devine added: “Last April, Lord Adonis gave me a personal assurance at the Scottish Select Committee that he would answer my questions about Peter Bennett’s behaviour and the huge pay-offs he has made to outgoing staff. I am still waiting for his answers.”

An internal inquiry into Bennett’s actions was held in November 2007, which found he had committed the offences, but had not acted maliciously.

A Network Rail spokesman said: “We take allegations like this very seriously. A thorough investigation occurred and Bennett was found to have no case to answer. This is a nasty smear by the TSSA.”

Meanwhile, Network Rail has recently launched a recruitment campaign aimed at attracting more women into the company.

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