Bloxham judgment put on hold

The judgment on Peter Bloxham’s age discrimination claims against his former firm Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer has been reserved indefinitely.

No judgment date was given by chairman Thomas Ryan today at the end of Bloxham’s hearing. Ryan also warned counsel that deliberations, starting tomorrow, may well extend beyond Thursday (19 July) because of the sheer volume of material to be considered.

“You’ve given me a considerable amount to chew on,” Ryan told Tim Pitt-Payne of 11KBW for Bloxham and Dinah Rose QC of Blackstone Chambers for Freshfields. “I feel like one of those little ball bearings in a pinball machine at the moment. As soon as I get off one bumper, I get swept round again and come up against the next one. I am not going to offer any hostages to fortune. I just don’t know.”

Bloxham is claiming that Freshfields’ pension reforms forced him to retire early, aged 54, and therefore he was only entitled to a reduced pension because of his age: had he been 55 he would have received a full pension. Currently, he receives £175,000 a year for life from Freshfields. He is claiming £4.5m in damages.

It is the first high-value claim to be heard under the new age discrimination legislation introduced in October 2006. It is also the first case brought against Freshfields by a former partner in its 350-year history, said the firm.

As first reported by The Lawyer, the firm is now also facing similar action brought by former corporate partner Lois Moore, currently at Shearman & Sterling; and a dispute by former co-head of disputes Jo Rickard, also now at Shearman, over the pension’s restrictive covenant (The Lawyer, 16 July).

Both Freshfields and Bloxham must wait to hear when they might receive a judgment. Ryan decided not to set a date for a remedy hearing and instead suggested that another case management discussion take place once the judgment comes out.

Both parties are upbeat about how the hearing progressed. A Freshfields spokesperson said the firm believes it has a strong case, while Bloxham’s side said that they were very pleased and that the case could not have been better presented.

In truth, both sides have had to make concessions. Bloxham conceded one point – on whether or not the 29th March 2006 vote that passed the controversial pension reforms was void – even before the hearing started. Under cross-examination, he also conceded that a consultancy offer “may” have been extended to him.

Freshfields, meanwhile, admitted today that even if measures were found to be discriminatory, if the end aim – which Freshfields says was to create a sustainable and fair pension scheme for the future – is legitimate, then such measures can be arguably proportionate.