Equality knocks

A hubbub. That is the word to describe the effect a Supreme Court ruling on equal pay has had on employment lawyers.

Leigh Day & Co partner Chris Benson, and Outer Temple barristers Andrew Short QC and Naomi Ling, secured a victory for 174 former employees of Birmingham City Council against the authority, which was represented by Cloisters employment silk Paul Epstein QC, Nathaniel Caiden from the same set and Old Square’s Louise Chudleigh (see story).

The judgment has the effect of extending the limitation period on bringing equal pay claims from six months to six years by allowing cases to be brought through the High Court rather than just the Employment Tribunal (ET).

Madeleine Thompson, head of employment at Hamlins, said it gives employees a real choice as to their access to justice, especially on the issue of costs, while Mishcon de Reya employment partner Greg Campbell labelled the judgment an “incremental step for employment law” and warned it may still take another 30 to 40 years for gender pay equality to be achieved organically, rather than through litigation.

However, Ashurst head of employment Caroline Carter predicted a dramatic increase in public and private sector claims with a “significant” financial impact on employers.

Sarah Ozanne, employment partner at CMS Cameron McKenna, agreed that the judgment has “serious ramifications” for employers.

But she added: “Although a positive move for ex-employees in terms of recourse, the law on equal pay still lags behind other discrimination laws in terms of preventing such issues in the first place.”

Irwin Mitchell employment partner Glenn Hayes questioned the consensus that the Supreme Court ruling will lead to a rush of new claims, saying: “It’s unlikely that many people will have been put off bringing such a claim, or prevented from doing so, by the six-month time limit. However, that’s not to say that there may be some cases which haven’t been advanced which now are able to do so.”

Hogan Lovells senior associate Vanessa Hogan suggested that employers who have lost ET equal pay claims in the past may now face further litigation from ex-employees who were not involved in the original claim because of the six-month limitation. Hogan said reviews of historic workforces would need to be carried out.
For more on these views read here.

Equality in the legal workplace has also been a hot topic this week with research by The Lawyer showing that while partner headcount across the UK’s largest 100 law firms by revenue has increased by 14.2 per cent since the credit crisis in 2008, female partner headcount has increased by 27.4 per cent in the same period (see story). However, the research also showed that women still make up less than 10 per cent of the Top 100’s equity partnership.

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