Employers alerted over equal pay claim fall-out

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Scores of women who worked at a local authority yesterday won an equal pay fight in the UK’s highest court which lawyers say will have “serious ramifications” for employers.

The Supreme Court had “effectively” extended the time workers have to bring equal pay compensation claims from six months to six years, said solicitors.

Experts said the ruling could trigger thousands of claims and have a “significant impact” in the City.

About 170 former Birmingham City Council employees – including women who worked as cooks, cleaners and care assistants – who left their jobs between 2004 and 2008 want compensation.

They say the council made payments and provided benefits to men doing the same level of work – but not to them. Their lawyers claim that the council breached equal pay law.

Birmingham council tried to block claims – arguing that should be taken to employment tribunals, which have a six-month time limit.

But former employees persuaded judges that they could bring claims in civil courts, where there is a six-year limit.

The women had earlier won fights on the issue in the High Court and the Court of Appeal – and the Supreme Court yesterday dismissed Birmingham council’s challenge to the Court of Appeal decision.

Five Supreme Court justices considered whether claims could be brought within six years. The panel ruled that they could, by a 3-2 majority.

A law firm which represented the women said the decision was “historic” and had “huge implications”.

“The judgment 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,” said a spokesman for Leigh Day & Co.

“We are bringing the claims against Birmingham City Council on behalf of 174 claimants, with another 1,000 claims pending in Birmingham alone.”

He said the firm had thousands more claims in other areas waiting on the Supreme Court decision.

“The Supreme Court’s decision has serious ramifications for employers,” added Sarah Ozanne, an employment specialist at law firm CMS Cameron McKenna.