Leigh Day seals Supreme Court success in Birmingham equal pay case

Leigh Day & Co has secured a landmark ruling on equal pay claims after the Supreme Court threw out an appeal by Birmingham City Council.

Outer Temple barristers Andrew Short QC and Naomi Ling were instructed by partner Chris Benson on behalf of 174 former employees of Birmingham City Council (12 April 2012).

The group of cooks, cleaners, catering and care staff, the vasy majority of whom are women, wanted compensation for bonuses that they allege were given to colleagues in male-dominated positions such as refuse collectors, street cleaners, road workers and gravediggers.

The council instructed Cloisters employment silk Paul Epstein QC, who led Nathaniel Caiden from the same set and Old Square’s Louise Chudleigh.

Birmingham City Council took the case to the Supreme Court in a bid to have the equal pay claims struck out – on the basis that they should have been heard at an Employment Tribunal, with a limitation period of six months (20 November 2011).

The claimants, who left their jobs between 2004 and 2008, took their case to the High Court, which has a six-year limitation period.

The Supreme Court dismissed Birmingham’s application to strike out the case and also threw out its appeal of an earlier Court of Appeal ruling. The judgment paves the way for the claims to be heard in the High Court.

Leigh Day said it has another 1,000 claims pending in Birmingham alone, with thousands more awaiting today’s judgment.

The firm said the ruling effectively extends the time limit for equal pay claims from six moths to six years and called it the “biggest change to equal pay legislation” since its introduction in 1970.

Benson said: “This is a great day for equality and for all those women massively underpaid over many years within public and private organisations.

“Birmingham Council should now do the decent thing and settle the claims. They saved money by underpaying ex-workers for so many years, and so should now stop wasting taxpayers’ money fighting court cases they cannot win.”

The Supreme Court panel handed down a three-to-two majority judgment this morning, with Supreme Court Justices Wilson, Reed and Hale in favour and Sumption SCJ and Carnwath SCJ dissenting.