Bloxham claims damages of £4.5m

Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer‘s former insolvency partner Peter Bloxham is understood to be seeking £4.5m in damages.

Today saw the first cross-examination of Bloxham, who is bringing age discrimination claims against his former firm.

It is understood that the damages have been calculated on the £40,000 annual difference between Bloxham’s current pension and what he would have received on the former schedule II pension, which was phased out last year.

It transpired today that Bloxham has already had to concede one technical point on 6 July when skeleton arguments were presented. It circled on when exactly the cut-off date would be for 55 year-old-partners in relation to the reform process.

The “cliff”, or disparity, between 55 year-old partners and 54 year-olds is one element of the pension reforms that Bloxham takes particular issue with. The 55-year-olds were entitled to their full Schedule II pension, while 54-year-olds were entitled to 80 per cent of it.

Bloxham, who retired from the firm last October, is still making three complaints of direct and indirect age discrimination.

Bloxham, who was 54 when he took what he claims was a “forced” retirement, maintains that he always intended to retire in March 2007, just six months after the new Schedule IIA reforms were made effective.

Partners over 50 had a choice to either leave Freshfields or stay at the firm as a consultant. Certain partners, namely dispute resolution partners Jan Paulsson and Ian Taylor and corporate finance partner Richard Ballard, were ear-marked as “superheroes” who could remain as consultants on salary equivalent to a plateau partner’s drawings, which this year is £1.1m.

An important part of the claim is that Bloxham maintains he was given no such option and the firm at no time made him a concrete offer of consultancy until after he had already tendered his retirement. He said he was forced to commit “economic madness” by retiring early, he told the tribunal today.

Despite maintaining that no concrete offer was made, Bloxham said in his witness statement that he was only ever earmarked for half a “superheroes’” amount as a potential consultant.

Bloxham’s witness statement was made public for the first time during today’s hearing. His summary of his case is as follows: “As a consequence of the various actions by the Respondants and the forced introduction of the Transitional Arrangements applicable to partners aged between 50 and 55 on April 2006, I have been and will for my lifetime continue to be, treated less favourably than partners who had also fulfilled a 20-year service requirement and were aged 55 and above as at 30 April 2006. All of this was merely because I happened to be aged 54 as at 30 April 2006.”

Cross-examining Bloxham was Dinah Rose QC of Blackstone Chambers for the respondants. Much of the morning was spent arguing that Bloxham in fact suffered less as a retiring partner entitled to his full pension than younger partners. All partners were asked by management to “share the pain” of the pension reforms.

The afternoon’s session was spent disputing Bloxham’s claim that there was insufficient consultation prior to the implementation of the pension reforms.

Much of this turned on the existence of the so-called Grey Panthers, an unofficial representative body of older partners aged 45 and above, which was led by former Freshfields partners David Ereira and Lois Moore, now at Linklaters and Shearman & Sterling respectively.

The respondents claim that the Grey Panthers were a means of disseminating information and collecting feedback among the older partners at the firm, while Bloxham maintained on the stand that the group was merely informal and that it had been given no remit by management to collate peer opinion.

“The only way to find out what was going on was by going to the Grey Panthers,” said Bloxham.

Bloxham’s cross-examination continues tomorrow. Also slated to appear for the respondants is Guy Morton, Freshfields’ co-senior partner.