The UK Supreme Court has recently issued a landmark judgement in the case of Birmingham City Council v Abdulla and others. The case, brought by 174 mainly female ex Birmingham City Council workers, has enabled women who were being paid less favourably than their male co-workers to make claims for earnings that they were entitled to during their employment with the Council.
The women brought their cases to the court after learning that male co-workers in similarly graded positions were earning much higher incomes during their periods of employment. The women had been denied a large proportion of their wage entitlements, largely by virtue of bonuses that were being paid out to male co-workers, to such an extent that the women are now expected to receive around £2 million pounds in pay-outs between them.
The claim was founded under the European Union originating "equality cause" which most pertinently manifests itself in the Equality Act 2010. The Act serves to render any terms of a woman's employment contract which are less favourable than those of a man in a similar position, equivalent to that of their male counterpart's. The substantive effect of this provision is to entitle the women to compensation for any disparity in their past earnings, as compared to male co-workers.
Birmingham City Council's main contention, and point of appeal was that the case should have been dealt with at an Employment Tribunal as opposed to the High Court as it would have been "more convenient" to deal with the issues in this specialist forum. The majority of the Supreme Court Justices, however, rejected this submission stating that since the limitation period for bringing a claim within the Employment Tribunal window had long expired; in the interests of justice it could never be more convenient to adopt such an approach.
The effect of this decision as dissenting Justice Lord Sumption inferred, in these sorts of cases, would perhaps be to deprive employers some of the statutory protections they have previously enjoyed and the 6 month Employment Tribunal limitation period of its content. The result is nevertheless a welcome one to the ex-council workers who, along with a further thousand former city council employees are being encouraged to proceed with submitting compensation claims.
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