Bloxham age case: Freshfields ‘knew’ of age claim risk

The case of Peter Bloxham against Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer took a dramatic twist in the final moments of Bloxham’s cross-examination today, as it was claimed that Freshfields knew the risks of mixing pension reforms with a huge restructuring.

Bloxham is the former Freshfields insolvency partner who is bringing age discrimination claims against his former firm as a result of pension reforms effected last year. He is seeking damages of £4.5m, as revealed on www.thelawyer.com yesterday (10 July).

Part of the reforms’ transitional arrangements involved 72 partners aged over 50 being eligible for a six-month consultancy worth 80 per cent of a plateau partner’s remuneration if they wanted to keep their old, unfunded and more generous pension. This consultancy was subject to a business case.

Under questioning by Freshfields’ counsel Dinah Rose QC, Bloxham conceded that he “may” have been offered a consultancy by senior partners of the firm.

However, in his witness statement Bloxham had maintained that this opportunity was not open to him and that he had never been offered such a deal formally. He had maintained that he was effectively “forced” to retire.

Today’s arguments centred on an email sent by London head of finance Bob Charlton on 10 July 2006, in which he laid out the newly improved terms of the consultancy. Charlton wrote that email to both Bloxham and his fellow insolvency partner Sandy Shandro.

Bloxham maintains, however, that this alleged offer took place after the partnership council was considering whether to grant consent to his retirement, which he had already tendered.

The issue of context is clouded because it took the 15-member council a delayed period to finally consent to his retirement, which it did on 28 July 2006.

Bloxham said the firm was aware at that time of his potential to bring a claim if a solution was not found. He also argued that management confused pension reforms with “size and shape” – Freshfields’ term for the £55m firmwide restructuring.

Jonathan Sumption QC of Brick Court Chambers, the barrister who Freshfields had brought in to consult on the pensions reforms, had already warned that getting rid of older partners under the guise of pension reforms, but actually with a view to ‘size and shape’, would be illegitimate.

Rose sought today to paint Bloxham as “paranoid” in jumping on such a “conspiracy theory”.

Freshfields senior partner Guy Morton and UK managing partner Peter Jeffcote are taking the stand this afternoon.