Judge Rules Ford – Visteon pension litigation to Proceed as Group

Ford Motor Co. was sued by more than 1,400 former U.K. workers for making misleading statements about the security of transferring their pensions to Visteon Corp. during the 2000 spinoff of the auto-parts company.

A U.K. judge ruled the claims, all filed at a London court between January 2011 and March 2012, should be tried together as group litigation, according to an order handed down in December and made public on Thursday.

Visteon, spun off from Ford in 2000, filed bankruptcy in 2009 as the auto-parts industry faced slowing vehicle sales and reduced production. The company ran a 350 million-pound ($553 million) deficit in 2009 on the pension plan that had been transferred from Ford, lawyers for one group of ex-employees said in documents filed at a London court in March.

Anyone “who transferred their accrued entitlements in the Ford Pension Scheme to the underfunded Visteon Scheme was exposing themselves to the risk that they may lose their accrued benefits,” according to the court filing.

If the workers believed their pensions “weren’t safe, there is no way we would’ve accepted” the transfer, said Simon Harding, one of the claimants, in a telephone interview. “If we hadn’t have accepted the transfer, then I don’t think the spinoff would’ve taken place.”

“Ford views these claims as totally without merit and it will defend its position vigorously,” Brian Bennett, a U.K. spokesman for Ford, said in an e-mailed statement. “While Ford recognizes the severity of the situation for former Visteon U.K. employees, Visteon became an independent company in 2000 and was responsible for its own business decisions.”