30 November 2011 #Employment
Birmingham City Council v Abdulla (2011)
174 female ex-employees of Birmingham City Council have won a landmark Court of Appeal case, which ruled that their claims for equal pay could proceed in the High Court, despite being time barred in the Employment Tribunal.
The cooks, cleaners, caterers and care staff are claiming that the Council had failed to give them pay equal to that of various predominantly male groups of staff, in breach of the Equal Pay Act 1970 (now enshrined in the Equality Act 2010).
The Council argued that the claims could only be heard by the Employment Tribunal, where cases have to be lodged within 6 months after leaving employment, compared with a 6 year time limit for claims brought in the high court.
The Court of Appeal disagreed with the Council’s analysis of the Equal Pay Act, which gives the court discretion to strike out claims that could more conveniently be determined in the Employment Tribunal. Lord Justice Mummery held that it would be an extreme exercise of judicial discretion to strike out an equal pay claim which had been brought within the time limit applicable to the civil courts. Such discretion should not be used to stifle claims that had been made in time. The legislation was drafted to give claimants the option to commence proceedings in the civil courts or the Employment Tribunal.
This case now paves the way for many more such equal pay claims to be brought in the civil court system.
The Council is likely to appeal this decision to the Supreme Court.