Freshfields managing partner Peter Jeffcote made the admission in the final moments of being questioned by tribunal chairman Thomas Ryan in the hearing of age discrimination claims brought by Freshfields’ former insolvency partner Peter Bloxham against the firm.
He said the firm was in an ongoing dispute with a male partner in the 50-54 year-old “consent group” who chose to retire from Freshfields’ equity in order to keep their more generous pension, now phased out. It is these controversial pensions reforms that have sparked Bloxham’s claims.
The “consent group” needed permission from the firm’s 15-member partnership council to take this pension with them when they left the firm.
The male partner in question is disputing whether consent should be given by right, Jeffcote said.
Jeffcote was followed on the witness stand today by Freshfields’ global finance co-head Perry Noble and by London finance head Bob Charlton, to whom Bloxham reported.
Jeffcote and Charlton both strongly disagreed with the argument made by Tim Pitt-Payne of 11KBW for the claimant that the firm had offered Bloxham a consultancy only as a “quid pro quo” for dropping any potential age discrimination claims.
Noble and Charlton, meanwhile, both said that Bloxham had been a valuable member of the team and that they had wanted Bloxham to accept a consultancy. An email from Noble was read out: “Despite his hormonal utterings, Peter deserves our respect.”
Charlton said that an email he had sent on 10th July outlining consultancy terms had constituted a preliminary offer to Bloxham. He had sent the same email to insolvency partner Sandy Shandro, who had accepted a consultancy. Bloxham, however, maintains this email did not constitute a legally binding offer.
Pitt-Payne also sought to overturn the picture painted of Bloxham by Dinah Rose QC for the respondants of “nimbyism” and a self-serving, greedy partner only concerned with a lump sum.
The trial continues on Monday (16 July) when Freshfields chief executive Ted Burke is expected to take the stand.