EQUAL PAY DISCRIMINATION IN EMPLOYMENT

Just on Friday, a prominent new case was reported in the news involving equal pay.

It is prominent because it involved a claim by a well-known BBC journalist, Samira Ahmed, against her employer, on the basis that she had been underpaid for several years, for presenting one programme, amongst others. Her equal pay ‘comparator’ or rival BBC male journalist, was Jeremy Vine. Salary figures at the BBC had been made public as a matter of policy, and these showed that Mr Vine had been paid at a rate considerably more per programme, even though they both have been similarly experienced in their fields – over 25 years or so.

Of course, the BBC attempted to offer an alternative explanation for this disparity to the employment tribunal, but it was not accepted by the tribunal on the facts before it. The programmes in question were very similar and required similar skills. If the opposite had been accepted, the case would not have succeeded. Samira Ahmed’s success means that she will receive back pay for perhaps six years amounting to a six-figure sum. Six years is the maximum period for which an employee can claim back pay in an equal pay claim.

Our senior specialist employment solicitor, Kuldeep Clair comments, “I have found that claims for equal pay commonly turn on the ability of an employer to provide an explanation for the difference in pay. This can be difficult, but sometimes an explanation may not even be necessary, because the work simply is not easily ‘comparable’ at all. So there can be potential problems in both bringing and defending claims, unless you have expert professional representation.

Kuldeep dealt with an equal pay claim last year for a claimant which was settled for a substantial five figure sum. He was opposed by a prominent City firm, defending a national hospitality company. “The defence initially put forward by the employer was essentially the same”, says Kuldeep, “namely,  that my client’s work was of a different nature and could not be compared to the dozen male managers who occupied comparable positions to her. But they had a change-of-mind two weeks before the tribunal hearing date, when they realised the strengths of my client’s claim.

Kuldeep goes on to note that this year it is exactly 50 years since the introduction of the Equal Pay Act 1970, which was a turning point in anti-discrimination legislation. “We have now moved forwards a long way since the days when women were expected to either stay at home and do the dishes, or at most possibly expect to take menial work at whatever pittance of a rate was offered to them without any argument.

For advice on any employment issue, Kuldeep Clair can be contacted on 07484 614090 or kuldeep@sterlinglawyers.co.uk

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