Blackstone seals Supreme Court success in Dumfries equal pay case

Blackstone Chambers’ Dinah Rose QC has secured victory in the Supreme Court for 251 female classroom assistants who brought equal pay claims against their employer, Dumfries and Galloway Council.

Rose and fellow Blackstone barrister Iain Steele were instructed by Unison Legal Services on behalf of Dumfries and Galloway Council female staff. 

The group of classroom assistants, support for learning assistants and nursery nurses wanted compensation for bonuses that they allege were given to colleagues in male-dominated positions such as groundsmen, refuse workers and leisure attendants. In 2008 an employment tribunal ruled that the male workers could be used as comparators for the women’s claims, but that decision was overturned by the Employment Appeal Tribunal and then the Court of Session in Scotland, in 2011.

Upholding the appeal, a unanimous five-strong panel of the Supreme Court ruled that working in different locations for the same employer is not a barrier to achieving equality, meaning that the women can take their claims, most of which were lodged in 2006, back to an employment tribunal. The tribunal will decide whether the women’s work is of equal value to their comparators’. 

The council instructed Old Square’s Ian Truscott QC and Linda Marsh, a member of Hastie Stable. The Equality & Human Rights Commission intervened in the appeal to the Supreme Court, instructing Cloisters’ Robin Allen QC.

Ashurst employment head Caroline Carter commented: “The ruling opens up the numbers of potential comparators an employee can point to when bringing an equal pay claim, which is likely to give rise to many new claims. Assessing whether workers can compare their pay to that of workers in different establishments is a notoriously complex legal area. According to the legislation, employees have to show that common terms and conditions are observed.”

The case is the second major equal pay claim to hit the Supreme Court within a year. In October Leigh Day & Co secured a landmark ruling on equal pay claims after the Supreme Court threw out an appeal by Birmingham City Council (24 October 2012).The group of cooks, cleaners, catering and care staff, the vast majority of whom were women, also wanted compensation for bonuses that they allege were given to colleagues in male-dominated positions. 

Last night the firm, together with Outer Temple Chambers, was named Employment Team of the Year at The Lawyer Awards for its work.

For the appellant, North and others

Blackstone Chambers’ Dinah Rose QC and Iain Steele, instructed by Unison Legal Services

For the respondent, Dumfries and Galloway Council

Old Square Chambers’ Ian Truscott QC and Hastie Stable’s Linda Marsh, instructed by Glasgow City Council Corporate Services

For the intervenor, the Equality & Human Rights Commission

Cloisters’ Robin Allen QC