Family value: Vizards’ messy break-up sparks pay row

A law firm takeover is hard to get right, but a partial one can be hell, as Vizards Wyeth is finding out.

Vizards is being pursued by its former family law team, which was left out of its partial takeover by Weightmans, for allegedly failing to pay severance. The team also claims racial and sexual discrimination.

The four claimants – all women, two of whom are minority ethnic – lined up against respondents Vizards and Weightmans (although the latter was later dropped as
a respondent) at Ashford Employment Tribunal for a pre-hearing review last week, seeking £100,000 in severance money.

The claimants worked in the matrimonial department, but ahead of the firm’s acquisition by Weightmans in 2011 found they would not be a part of the deal since Weightmans was only interested in the insurance side of the business.

The team, led by partner Mary-Ann Wright, subsequently moved to DWF. Vizards’ equity partners claim the DWF offer meant the team were not entitled to severance pay
under the Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) – or ’Tupe’ – regulations.

At the hearing Wright said that Vizards’ argument was a “conscious contrivance” by equity partners to minimise their financial responsibilities and spoke of a “bullying and unpleasant atmosphere” ahead of the deal.

The claimants also questioned why six Vizards staff who were not on the insurance side were made redundant, paid severance and then hired by Weightmans. One intimated that she would bring race and sex discrimination claims against Vizards.

The purpose of the review was to decide whether the transfer of the four claimants from Vizards to DWF came under Tupe. If there was a Tupe transfer the claimants will continue their claim for failure to consult. If not, they will pursue Vizards for breach of contract.

Tribunal chair Clare Harrington ordered the parties to give submissions by 27 February, when she will make a decision. The claimants will then decide how
to proceed. Weightmans did not respond in time to comment.