Birmingham City Council v Abdulla UKSC/2012/47

The Supreme Court held by a majority decision that equal pay claims which were out of time in an Employment Tribunal can proceed as breach of contract claims in the High Court. The Council failed in its application to strike out 174 equal pay claims after the six month time limit for bringing claims in the Tribunal had elapsed. The Court of Appeal held that an equal pay claim could not be more conveniently dealt with by a tribunal if it was statute barred. The reasons for failing to bring a claim in time were irrelevant as to convenience.

There were two dissenting judgments by Lord Sumption and Lord Carnwath, who both considered that the limitation provisions were an important part of the statutory scheme and there should have been an enquiry into why the Claimants failed to submit their claims in time and all other factors which would have a bearing on whether the claims should be struck out. In their view the 174 claims should have been remitted for individual consideration.

Key point: Private sector employers are now open to the risk of equal pay claims long after the employment relationship has come to an end, through such claims in the High Court, because of the costs risk. Monitoring gender pay may well provide a better "defence" against such claims.

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