The law firm Leigh Day is representing 44,000 current and former Asda shop floor workers in the equal pay claim against the supermarket group. Asda, which is Britain’s third largest supermarket group, was appealing against a Court of Appeal judgement in 2019 that lower-paid store staff, who are mostly women, could compare themselves with higher paid distribution centre workers, who are mostly men, in pay claims.
“The Supreme Court’s dismissal of the appeal does not mean that the claimants’ claims for equal pay succeed,” the Supreme Court said.
“At this stage all that has been determined is that they can use terms and conditions of employment enjoyed by the distribution employees as a valid comparison.”
Lauren Lougheed, a Leigh Day lawyer representing Asda store staff, said: “We are delighted that our clients have cleared such a big hurdle in their fight for equal pay.
“Already an employment tribunal, the employment appeal tribunal and the Court of Appeal ruled that these roles can be compared, and now the Supreme Court has come to the same conclusion.
“It’s our hope that Asda will now stop dragging its heels and pay their staff what they are worth.”
An Asda spokesperson said: “This ruling relates to one stage of a complex case that is likely to take several years to reach a conclusion.
“We are defending these claims because the pay in our stores and distribution centres is the same for colleagues doing the same jobs regardless of their gender.
“Retail and distribution are very different sectors with their own distinct skill sets and pay rates. Asda has always paid colleagues the market rate in these sectors and we remain confident in our case.”
Neha Thethi, Head of Employment at Lime Solicitors, commented: “The importance of today’s Supreme Court judgment cannot be underestimated – it is the largest equal pay claim in the private sector, and has the potential to open the floodgates to further claims, not just across other supermarkets but other prominent retailers.
“The Claimants will inevitably treat this as a positive sign and we can reasonably expect to see the number of Claimants growing and other claims commencing.
“Asda could be facing a multi-million pound pay-out.
“The Supreme Court’s decision will inevitably affect the structure and approach of other potential Claimants.
“With the abolition of tribunal fees, such mass actions for equal pay may well increase.
“The introduction of gender pay reporting means more information on gender pay is available with the inevitable result that this issue is only likely to pick up steam.
“Over 40 years ago the Equal Pay Act came into force and we’re still seeing an uneven playing field for working men and women and fighting pay discrepancies.
“Arguably this legal test is long overdue. If the Supreme Court rules in favour of the employees it would be a victory for a huge number of women, and the outcome will have the potential to mark progress towards true workplace gender equality.”
Susan Harris, the GMB’s legal director, said: “This is amazing news and a massive victory for Asda’s predominantly women shop floor workforce.
“We are proud to have supported our members in this litigation and helped them in their fight for pay justice.
“Asda has wasted money on lawyers’ bills chasing a lost cause, losing appeal after appeal, while tens of thousands of retail workers remain out of pocket.
“We now call on Asda to sit down with us to reach agreement on the back pay owed to our members – which could run to hundreds of millions of pounds.”