Vizards faces discrimination claim in ongoing pay spat

Vizards Wyeth’s former family law team is pursuing its old firm’s equity partners for sexual and racial discrimination in a pay-related claim following Vizards’ takeover by Weightmans.

The four claimants – all women, two of whom are minority ethnic – lined up against respondents Vizards at the Ashford Employment Tribunal in January (30 January 2012), seeking £100,000 in redundancy pay.

Vizards’ equity partners argued that they did not owe the team, which moved to DWF, any money under the Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) – or ‘Tupe’ – regulations.

The Employment Tribunal rejected that argument, however, in a judgment delivered on 27 April.

The parties then met at a case management hearing on 7 June where, it is understood, the former Vizards equity partners – now fixed share partners at Weightmans – agreed to pay severance to the team members but said they would not pay the related breach of contract claims, meaning that two of the claimants would get nothing.

The claimants argue that all the other staff affected by Weightmans’ takeover of Vizards were paid severance and pay-in-lieu-of notice money in full, including six staff that were then immediately rehired by Weightmans, and in the absence of any other explanation are claiming that the unequal treatment was down to sexual and racial discrimination.

The parties will now thrash out the mitigation of losses claims, as well as claims of race and sex discrimination at a three-day hearing at the Ashford Employment Tribunal that is due to begin on 1 October.

The claims hark back to Vizards partial takeover by Weightmans in 2011 (8 March 2011). Weightmans was only interested in Vizards’ insurance practice, meaning that the claimants, who all worked in the matrimonial department at Vizards, would not be part of the deal. The all-woman team, led by partner Mary-Ann Wright, negotiated a move to DWF before the Weightmans deal completed. The former Vizards equity partners said the family team’s move was a Tupe transfer, meaning the team was not entitled to severance money.

“We remain very disappointed that [the former equity partners] continue to treat us completely differently to the rest of the staff, who got paid in full,” said Wright. “We’ve been put through over a year of hell with these claims.”

The former Vizards equity partners declined to comment.