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Landmark ruling in CA as ex-Birmingham City Council workers win right to bring equal pay claims in High Court

Equal pay claims will be heard in the High Court following ruling

Hundreds of women unfairly excluded from bonuses

29 November 2011

The Court of Appeal today upheld a landmark decision to allow equal pay claims to be heard in the High Court as well as at an Employment Tribunal. The decision means this will be the first time this has been made possible since the Equal Pay Act was introduced in 1970 and provides hope to many who thought their claims were outside of the time limitation period.

Law firm Leigh Day & Co represents174 women who worked as cleaners, cooks, catering staff and care staff to recover compensation for bonuses they claim they were excluded from as these were handed out to employees in traditionally male-dominated jobs such as refuse collectors, street cleaners, road workers and gravediggers.

In 2007 and 2008 tens of thousands of pounds were paid to female employees of Birmingham City Council to compensate them for years of chronic underpayment. Only workers who were still in the job or who had recently left were eligible.

Those who had ceased being employed by the Council more than six months before were not eligible as the limitation period for an equal pay claim in the Employment Tribunal is six months. More payments have also been made this year to women who won claims in the employment tribunal.

Leigh Day & Co with support from Barristers at Outer Temple Chambers brought these claims as breach of contract claims in the High Court. Birmingham City Council, who challenged the jurisdiction of the court, and applied to strike the claims out, met this approach with fierce resistance.

In December 2010 the High Court in London agreed that these claims could be heard in the Civil Courts. Birmingham City Council appealed this decision claiming that Civil Courts do not have jurisdiction and that the claims should be referred back to an employment tribunal, knowing that many are past the time limit of only 6 months and would be dismissed without any consideration of their merits.

The Court of Appeal, in upholding the decision of the High Court has made it clear that it is possible to bring an equal pay claim in the civil courts, for which the limitation period will be six years. Many potential claimants who thought their claims were outside of the limitation period in the employment tribunal will now be able to bring an equal pay claim.

Partner at Leigh Day & Co, Chris Benson, who is representing the ex-workers said:

“Every judge that has considered this case in both the High Court and Court of Appeal has expressed the view quite clearly that these claims on behalf of our clients would be successful and Birmingham City Council would lose. Birmingham City Council are trying through legal technicalities to avoid paying what they owe to our clients and in doing so are continuing to waste taxpayer’s money, ramping up the legal costs unnecessarily by fighting a hopeless battle.

“The fees the council are spending on litigation could be used to contribute to a settlement that would see women paid the money they are owed after years of unlawful underpayment. It is disappointing for our clients and no doubt of concern to the taxpayers of Birmingham that they have decided to appeal again to the Supreme Court and we would urge them to reconsider."

Mr Benson continued: “The decision could lead to many other claims coming forward as for decades, male council workers could earn thousands on top of their salaries in bonuses, despite being on the same pay grade as their female colleagues. In some Councils these inequalities have only recently been phased out and in other cases the inequalities amazingly still exist.”

Linda Manders (59) from Selly Oak in the West Midlands worked for the council for 10 years as a lunchtime supervisor at Northfield Manor Junior & Infant School. She left in 2008.  The Headmaster told her she would receive compensation but she was later told she was not eligible because she had left more than six months before and she could not make a claim. 

Ms Manders said: “I was disgusted but there was nothing I could do.  I gave 10 years’ service to the council. The Lunchtime Supervisor role was the only job that fitted round my needs. The pay was low and much lower than men on the same pay grade.  Not being able to claim the pay I was entitled to is simply not right and this judgment helps me and others like me who may now be able to recover what they should have been paid over many years.

For more information please contact David Standard or Chris Benson.

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Birmingham City Council ex-employees win equal pay case BBC News 29.11.11

Chris Benson interviewed on BBC WM 30.11.11