Clyde & Co looks to strike out ex-partner’s whistleblowing claim

Clyde & Co will attempt to stamp out an employment claim brought against it by former partner Krista Bates van Winkelhof at the Court of Appeal (CoA) next month.

The firm has instructed Littleton Chambers’ Chris Quinn to lead the fight. Partner John Morris, who leads the firm’s international projects and construction group, has also been named as a defendant.

Matrix heavyweight Tom Linden QC has been drafted in by Mishcon de Reya partner Joanna Blackburn to lead the appeal fight for Bates van Winkelhof, who alleges that she was ejected from the firm after blowing the whistle while working in Tanzania.

A full appeal hearing has been set down for 18 and 19 July, when the firm will again fight for the claim to be thrown out on the grounds of jurisdiction. The Employment Tribunal and Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) have both ruled that Bates van Winkelhof, as an employee of Clydes, was entitled to have her claim heard in the High Court.

The firm counters that as the former equity partner was based in Dar es Salaam she is out of jurisdiction.

The battle will be closely followed by City firms with international networks as it is expected to determine the employment status of overseas partners. Russell Jones & Walker employment partner Clive Howard commented: “The warning for firms is that equity partners are considered employees when it comes to whistleblowing cases.”

He continued: “The reality is that if you have a partner who is based in Hong Kong but never comes to the UK it doesn’t mean that partner doesn’t have connections in London.”

Bates van Winkelhof joined Clydes as an equity partner in February 2010 after it acquired her then firm Shadbolt (19 November 2009). She had overseen Shadbolt’s relationship with Tanzanian firm AKO Law, a relationship that continued following the merger. The two firms had separate profit pools but were understood to be working towards a profit-sharing arrangement.

Bates van Winkelhof launched her claim against Clydes after she was suspended by the firm in January 2011, a day after she raised allegations of bribery and corruption by AKO managing partner Kibuta Ongwamuhana.

She was sacked by Ako Law in November 2010, returning to London the following month to discuss allegations made against her with bosses at Clydes.

The firm had argued at the Employment Tribunal and EAT that as van Winkelhof was not based in London she had no right to bring her claim. Both courts rejected the submission, stating that as the claimant had spent 78 days of the year in London she could have the full claim heard.

A full hearing pending the outcome of Clydes’ appeal has been set down for November. The claimant’s legal team are working pro bono on the tribunal hearing, with Blackburn instructing Richard Hermer QC of Matrix Chambers for the November hearing.

In a statement Clydes said: “Jurisdiction aside, Clyde & Co strenuously denies Ms Bates van Winkelhof’s claims. We can categorically state that neither her pregnancy nor her allegations against Ako Law were relevant factors in her departure and we are confident of proving this at tribunal if necessary.”