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Time barred equal pay claims

BY Margaret Anne Soderqvist-Clark
Employment Law & HR
BG Purple

Readers may well have seen recent press reports regarding the victory for a group of Birmingham City Council employees in having their equal pay claim heard in the ordinary courts. 

The victory has been heralded as opening the floodgates for a raft of future claims.  

The Equality Act 2010 implies an 'equality clause' into all contracts of employment to the effect that any terms of employment less favourable to a member of the opposite sex are modified.  A breach of the equal pay provisions is therefore a breach of a contractual term and in theory can be pursued at either an employment or an ordinary court (in the same that a wages claim can be pursued at either an employment tribunal or the county court/sheriff court). 

There are much stricter time limits in pursuing a case in the employment tribunal (six months) than in the civil courts (six years or in the case of Scottish courts five years).  In the Birmingham case, all the Claimants were outwith the time limits for raising employment tribunals claims.  

There had been considerable uncertainty as to whether such claims could be pursued in the civil courts when time barred in the tribunal.  The Supreme Court however, in the Birmingham case, has ruled definitively that Claimants can take advantage of the lengthier time limits in the civil courts to pursue claims there.  

Local authorities and other public bodies are bracing themselves for another flurry of equal pay cases.  Private sector employers should also take note that ex-employees can pursue them in relation to equal pay cases now many years after leaving their employment.

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