Thompsons scores Lords victory in dinner ladies’ equal pay claim

Trade union and personal injury specialist Thompsons Solicitors has won a battle for a group of dinner ladies in the war over equal pay.

Five law lords ruled last week that the 36 dinner ladies were victims of bullying by their employer, St Helens Borough Council, Merseyside, the aim of which was to get them to drop their discrimination claims.

The women could be awarded up to £10,000 in compensation each, according to the GMB union, which took on their case.

The ruling was the climax of a long-running legal battle that dates back to 1998, when the women were among 500 workers claiming equal pay with male road sweepers. Most of the group accepted a settlement, but some took their claim to an employment tribunal, which awarded them total compensation of £560,000.

The 36 women then received a letter from a council officer warning that the claim could cause redundancies and might deprive children of school dinners. Lord Justice Neuberger concluded that this letter was “effectively a threat” and was “a classic case of blaming the victims”.

Thompsons’ team was led by Liverpool solicitor Michelle Cronin. Cronin said: “The judgment should make clear once and for all to employers what their response to equal pay claims should be. They can negotiate with the trade unions and their solicitors to avoid litigation for all parties, but they cannot intimidate individuals and expect to get away with it.”

St Helens council was represented in-house by principal solicitor Jon Fox. The council refused to discuss the claim, but issued a statement that read: “This issue is part of the national debate on equal pay… St Helens has led the way in the public sector and introduced a new fair pay and grading structure. This was fully agreed by the council’s joint trade unions and good relationships continue.”