Thousands of workers could now bring equal pay claims dating back six years rather than six months after 174 women won a “landmark” ruling against Birmingham City Council.
The Supreme Court ruled that members of the so-called ‘Abdulla Group’, which was named after the woman whose name was at the top of the list, could go ahead with compensation claims at the High Court over their missed bonuses. The women, who had worked mainly in traditionally female roles such as cooks, cleaners and care staff, had been found eligible to launch their claims at the High Court last November, but Birmingham subsequently appealed. A panel of five justices at the highest court in the land has now dismissed its appeal by a majority, however. The situation came about after Birmingham was forced to pay tens of thousands of pounds to female council staff in 2007 and 2008 to compensate for denying them bonuses paid to similar grade male colleagues. More payments also followed to women who subsequently took their cases to an employment tribunal. But only workers who were still employed or had recently left the Council were eligible to make a tribunal claim because of a six-month claims deadline. To get around this deadline, however, the Abdulla Group started action for damages in the High Court, which has a six-year claims deadline. In a statement, law firm Leigh Day & Co, which represented the women, said that the judgement “effectively extends the time limit for equal pay claims from six months to six years, the biggest change to Equal Pay legislation since it was introduced in 1970, with huge implications for thousands of workers”. In another statement, the Council said that this type of legal challenge had already previously been pursued at employment tribunal level because they were “experienced and specifically trained in dealing with such claims”. Holding cases in civil courts rather than tribunals would potentially mean higher costs for the losing party, it added, although it said it was unable to comment further at present.