Troubled retailer Marks & Spencer is believed to have brought in Simmons & Simmons to oversee its defence after a Paris court ruled that the company had violated national labour laws.
French firm Fromont Briens et Associés, which has been advising Marks & Spencer’s operations in France, will continue its role as legal adviser.
The court ruling means that Marks & Spencer will now have to consult with the unions over its decision to close 18 stores in France. It will have to negotiate redundancy and compensation and the discussions could delay the anticipated closures at the end of the year.
Under French employment law, companies which plan restructuring are required to follow a step-by-step process of notifying their employees at every level. But the decision to inform staff of the company’s intention to close stores is in direct conflict with French and UK stock exchange law. Company law maintains that if an employer makes a decision that will affect the share price, it may not disclose the information to the public.
The courts must also decide whether the director of Marks & Spencer in France can be held liable for the violation of French law.
If it can be proved that the chairman was involved in the decision to close the stores then there is a risk that he will be prosecuted.
But if the decision was made in London, and it can be proved that the French chairman was unaware of the decision making process, then there is no criminal liability.
In an interview with Le Monde newspaper before the court ruling, Marks & Spencer’s chief executive Luc Vandevelde said that the company would not go back on its decision to close the stores.
A spokesperson for Marks & Spencer confirms that Simmons was instructed to give a high level of review on European and social law, but refuses to comment on whether the firm is overseeing the defence in Paris.
The company currently employs 75,000 people worldwide, but the closures will mean the loss of 4,390 jobs.