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What's New? > Ruling opens way to six year time limit for equal pay claims

Ruling opens way to six year time limit for equal pay claims

Published: 25th October 2012

Supreme Court ruling opens the gates for worker's compensation claims to be made through the courts after the industrial tribunal time limits have elapsed.

A flood of equal pay claims is expected following a Supreme Court ruling allowing workers who miss the six-month deadline for claiming compensation through the employment tribunal to take their claim to the normal courts, where a six-year time limit applies.

The Supreme Court yesterday (24th October) published its judgment in the case of Birmingham City Council v Abdulla and others, which involved equal pay claims by workers at the Council. The vast majority of the claimants were women who had worked as cleaners, home helps and in similar jobs, with basic pay of between 10000 and 15000. Men in equivalent male-dominated jobs such as refuse collectors, street cleaners and grave diggers earned similar basic wages but were able to earn bonuses of up to 15,000 per year which were not available to those in traditionally female-dominated jobs. 

In 2007 and 2008 many female Council employees brought claims, arguing that the Council's policy of not offering bonuses to women contravened equal pay rules. The employees won and were awarded thousands of pounds in compensation.

But this was of no help to workers who had left the Council more than six months before, because the time limit for making a claim in the employment tribunal is six months from the date the employment ended.

The group now known as 'Abdulla' was formed, taking its name from the first named woman on the list, and the women took their claim to the High Court, where a time limit of six years applies.

Birmingham Council's argument was that, unless the workers could show a very good reason why they did not make their claim within six months, their claim should be dismissed because there would be no purpose in providing a strict time table for employment tribunal claims if those who do not comply can simply take their claim to the courts.

The five Supreme Court judges were split on the question. Two of them felt that allowing employment claims to proceed in the civil courts when the tribunal time limit has expired was to frustrate the policy underlying the time limit provisions of the Equal Pay Act 1970. But the other three judges considered that the reason why the Equal Pay Act made no provision for extending the six-month time limit must be that Parliament recognised that an alternative claim in the civil courts was available. So the workers won by a narrow majority.

Said employment law specialist Sally Dean of Ward Gethin Archer solicitors: "We have had equal pay legislation for 50 years, but there are still many discrepancies, and this case opens the door for employees who only realise that they might have a claim against their former employers after they had left the job.

"The claim of the Abdulla group was under the Equal Pay Act 1970, where employment tribunals have no power to extend the time limit - even by  minutes - and so this case marks a major shift in attitude from the courts towards late claims from employees.  It remains to be seen whether the case has wider implications for other types of employment claim."

If you require further information on the above issue or any other employment matter, please contact a member of our Employment Law team at your nearest office by clicking here.

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