Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer has been accused of insufficient consultation leading up to its 2006 partners’ pension reform and forcing out its former insolvency partner Peter Bloxham, an employment tribunal heard today.
Bloxham, who retired from the firm last October, is making three complaints of direct and indirect age discrimination. These arise out of last year’s pension reform aimed at phasing out the scheme contained in Schedule II to the Memorandum of Terms of Partnership in favour of the new, less generous arrangements laid out under Schedule IIA .
The nine-day tribunal, which is chaired by Thomas Ryan at the London Central Employment Tribunal, will hear six witnesses on behalf of Freshfields. The principal witness is Freshfields managing partner Peter Jeffcote. It will also hear evidence from chief executive Ted Burke, senior partner Guy Morton, joint leader of the global finance practice Perry Noble and former finance department head Bob Charlton. Feargus Mitchell, a Deloittes partner, which advised Freshfields on the pension reform will also be called to submit evidence while Bloxham is the sole witness on the claimant side.
In dispute is whether the consultation on the reform, which saw 30 partners retire from the equity partnership in October 2006, was rushed through and Bloxham’s claim that he was forced out as he was told to retire in October with an 80% Schedule II pension or retire later but receive a pension under Schedule IIA.
Bloxham, who was aged 54 as of 30 April 2006, is claiming that he was discriminated against because partners aged 55 at this point were entitled to a full Schedule II pension while those retiring at 54 could only get 80%. He also claims discrimination because partners aged 50 to 53 could defer receipt of the Schedule II pensions in return for larger pensions although they could not obtain a pension greater than the 80% pension received by Bloxham.
Freshfields denies age discrimination saying that Bloxham’s situation arose because of the closure of the Schedule II scheme and claims it offered him a consultancy role which he rejected. The firm contends that it consulted fully on the pension reform.
Advising Bloxham is Dawsons Solicitors’ co-head of litigation Jo Keddie, who has instructed Tim Pitt-Payne of 11 KBW. Lewis Silkin’s head of employment Michael Burd and Dinah Rose QC of Blackstone Chambers are defending Freshfields.
The hearing continues tomorrow.