(Bloomberg) – The UK Supreme Court this week offered fresh produce to the country’s female retail workers hope In an ongoing battle for equal pay, this could lead to claims for damages running into billions.
Over 40,000 women who work in Asda Group Ltd.’s retail stores work, joined the class action first filed in 2014. Friday’s decision enables them to pursue their claim further.
Asda is one of the UK’s largest supermarket chains and the suit is the largest equal pay claim in the private sector. It also sets a significant precedent for others fighting for gender equality in the workplace and against wage discrimination in the country.
It was decided that the work of female employees in a supermarket can be compared to that of male employees working in Asda’s camps for equal pay. The jury said this case is important because otherwise an employer could avoid equal pay claims by assigning groups of workers to separate locations with different terms and conditions, even if it is discriminatory.
How much is the verdict worth?
The lawyers representing the workers have stated that each employee will be entitled to an average of $ 13,800 in compensation if she wins the case. So far, 44,000 female Asda workers have joined the call, but more could join after today’s decision. In 2016, when the lawsuit first went to trial, Asda had 133,000 hourly paid retail workers, both men and women, so the verdict is likely to reach at least £ 440 million.
Will it go beyond grocers?
Leigh Day, the London law firm leading the case, has also filed equal lawsuits against Asda’s largest competitors, Tesco Plc, J Sainsbury Plc and Wm Morrison Supermarkets Plc, and Next Plc, a popular homewares and apparel retailer. If the company wins each of these cases, retailers could get a £ 8 billion payout to their female employees.
It doesn’t stop there. This also sets a legal precedent for any business where the wage differentials exist between the employees who work in the workshop and those in their distribution centers. Friday’s decision could lead workers to take legal action against their employers.
The judgment only dealt with the preliminary question of the settlement work. While it was a major hurdle for staff to clear, the case is now returning to a specialized labor court to determine if the roles are equal and if the pay differentials are due to gender discrimination. Regardless of how the tribunal decides, it can still be challenged in the Supreme Court, so it will likely be a few more years before a final decision is made.