Some 170 female ex-employees of Birmingham City Council have won a long legal battle to file compensation claims against their former workplace, on grounds that they were consistently underpaid because of their gender. Their UK Supreme Court victory may have vast consequences for the council, as it opens the floodgates for up to 1,000 further claims. It is also likely to trouble any other local authority that has operated similar pay restrictions.
The council had already admitted to running a sexist pay scheme, having paid out tens of thousands of pounds in compensation to female workers who were still employed during 2007 and 2008. Further settlements were reached with workers who had recently left and taken cases to an employment tribunal. However, the council had resisted more historic claims, suggesting that anyone who had left longer ago than six months was not entitled to anything.
In December 2010, the historic claimants took their case to the High Court, which has a six-year deadline for such claims – a much longer timeframe than allowed in a conventional tribunal, providing legal coverage for people who worked for the Council as far back as 2004. The council launched proceedings at the Court of Appeal to question the High Court’s jurisdiction on the claims, but in November last year an appeal ruling found in favour of the High Court and the claimants. In January this year, the Council took its appeal to the Supreme Court – but this week that appeal was quashed. The claimants’ legal team called the outcome a “landmark”, and hope that their clients may receive up to £2 million in compensation between them.
The pay scheme in question awarded men and women similar salaries of between £10,000 and £15,000 per year – but while bonuses of similar sums went to employees in traditionally male-dominated jobs, such as road mending and refuse collection, female workers employed as cleaners, care staff and cooks received no extras.
The council said it would “consider this legal ruling carefully” – but as the Supreme Court is the highest court in the land, it certainly seems that avenues for appeal on these shores have been exhausted.