Media Briefing Note: Birmingham City Council v Abdulla & Others
24 October 2012
LONDON, 24 OCTOBER 2012 - The Supreme Court's ruling in Birmingham City Council v Abdulla & Ors confirms that ex-employees can bring equal pay laws in the civil courts for a period of up to six years after their employment has terminated.
Vanessa Hogan, senior associate at Hogan Lovells, commented: "This is one of the most significant developments in equal pay legislation in recent decades. Employers will no longer be "safe" once six months have gone by, but could be nervously clock-watching for six years. It potentially opens up the possibility of ex-employees bringing equal pay claims long after their employment has ended.
"That said, bringing a claim in the civil court is not without risk. There are significant cost risks in bringing claims in the civil courts. Whereas usually each party pays their own costs in the Employment Tribunal, orders for the losing party to pay at least part of the winner's costs are the norm in civil courts. For those employers who have concerns about their current, or past, remuneration practices this decision is not going to give them a peaceful night's sleep. In particular employers who have lost equal pay claims in the Employment Tribunal in the past six years will need to review their historic workforce to assess whether new claims could be brought by ex-employees who were not involved in the original Employment Tribunal case.
"The equal pay principle is achieved by implying a "sex equality" clause into a woman's contract of employment thus ensuring that she receives equal pay for equal work. It is nothing new that an equal pay claim can be brought through the civil law court as it is a breach of contract claim. In practice, the courts have been effectively passing the claim to the Employment Tribunal to determine as this is seen as the more "convenient" forum to hear the claim. However, an Employment Tribunal would not be able to hear such a claim where the six month Employment Tribunal time-limit has elapsed.
"Even with this win, the ex-employers in Birmingham City Council v Abdulla & Ors still have to make out their case for equal pay. A further costly battle for both parties is still to be fought."