The tricky aftermath of Vizards’ merger

Amid the climate of consolidation in the UK legal market at the moment comes a reminder of the tricky mechanics of getting mergers right.

When Vizards Wyeth was forced into looking for a white knight in 2011 it struck a deal with Weightmans that excluded certain teams. One of those teams was the matrimonial group, which comprised three lawyers and one secretary – all of whom were women and two of whom were minority ethnic.

The group was able to secure a move to DWF, but here’s where things got tricky. The Vizards Wyeth equity partners were claiming that the group’s deal to move to DWF came under the Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) – or ’Tupe’ – Act, meaning that legally they were owed no severance money. A rare instance, surely, of the Tupe law being used to deny workers a benefit?

Anyway, the family law group naturally disagreed with Vizards, leading to a drawn-out battle at Ashford Employment Tribunal and claims of racial and sexual discrimination. The claimants argue that everyone else (predominantly while males) affected by the takeover got their redundancy pay in full – including six staff that were immediately rehired by Weightmans – leaving them to conclude that the different treatment was a result of their gender and race.

The first hearing in January resulted in the Employment Tribunal holding that there was no Tupe transfer, but subsequent wranglings over mitigation of losses have meant that a further three-day hearing has been scheduled for October.

If takeovers are a tricky beast to get right, partial takeovers can be hell.