Oct 24 2012
Scores of women who worked for a local authority have won an equal pay compensation fight at the UK's highest court.
Supreme Court justices said more than 170 former Birmingham City Council employees could launch pay equality compensation claims in the High Court.
Lawyers described the judgment, given in London, as a "landmark" and said it could have "huge implications".
The Supreme Court decision follows a Court of Appeal ruling in the women's favour.
Last November, the Court of Appeal said scores of cooks, cleaners, catering and care staff previously employed by Birmingham City Council were entitled to launch pay equality compensation claims in the High Court.
The city council challenged that decision in the Supreme Court - but a panel of five justices dismissed the appeal by a majority.
Judges heard that 170 women were among female workers denied bonuses similar to those handed out to employees in traditionally male-dominated jobs such as refuse collectors, street cleaners, road workers and grave-diggers.
The court was told that, in 2007 and 2008, tens of thousands of pounds were paid to female council employees to compensate them. More payments have also been made to women who took cases to an employment tribunal. But only workers still employed or who had recently left were eligible to make claims in a tribunal.
Those who had left earlier were caught by a six-month deadline for launching claims. To get around the deadline, the women started actions for damages in the High Court, which has a six-year deadline for launching claims. The city council attempted to have those claims struck out, arguing that under equal pay legislation such claims could only be entertained by an employment tribunal.
Law firm Leigh Day & Co described the ruling as "historic". In a statement it said 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". It said it is bringing claims against Birmingham City Council on behalf of 174 claimants, with another 1,000 claims pending in Birmingham alone. The firm said "there are also thousands more claims in other areas around the UK being handled by Leigh Day & Co awaiting this decision".