Supermarket giant Asda is heading to the Court of Appeal in a long-running battle over equal pay.
The Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) decided last August that jobs in Asda stores were comparable to those in the firm’s distribution centres, upholding a previous ruling by the Employment Tribunal.
At the Court of Appeal on Wednesday, Lord Justice Underhill, Lord Justice Sales and Lord Justice Peter Jackson will hear lawyers for Asda argue that shop floor workers are not comparable to staff at the supermarket’s depots and that the EAT ruling should be overturned.
But, if Asda lose at this stage of the litigation, workers will still have to demonstrate that the roles are of equal value and, if they are, that there is a reason other than sex discrimination which means the roles should not be paid equally.
Law firm Leigh Day say the previous rulings found that “lower paid shop workers, who are mostly women, can compare themselves to higher paid workers in Asda’s distribution centres, who are mostly men”.
The firm, which says it represents more than 27,000 Asda shop floor workers, as well as staff at Sainsbury’s, Tesco and Morrisons, estimates that the total value of the claims against the big four supermarkets if they lose their cases and are ordered to pay all eligible staff could be over £8 billion.
Lauren Lougheed, lead lawyer on the Asda case at Leigh Day, said: “We are ready to fight once again for our ever-increasing group of supermarket clients who rightly demand equal pay for doing a job of equal worth to Asda.
“We believe Asda are dragging their heels in this case and preventing our clients from getting fair pay and are denying shop floor workers their rights by appealing the two previous decisions against them, forcing them to go through yet another hearing when we have clearly shown that the roles on the shop floor and those in the distribution centres can be compared and should therefore be paid equally.
“We hope that the Court of Appeal will agree with the two previous decisions on this matter and dismiss Asda’s appeal.”
An Asda spokesman said: “This equal value case is extremely complex and without precedent in the private sector, so it is vital the issues are given the legal scrutiny they deserve.
“Whatever the final outcome, the implications for UK businesses, not just in retail, will be far reaching.
Leigh Day have also appealed points they have lost.
“None of the appeals have caused any delay to the case, which continues to progress through the Tribunal, but it will still take many years to conclude.
“Our hourly rates of pay in stores are the same for female and male colleagues and this is equally true in our depots.
“Pay rates in stores differ from pay rates in distribution centres because the demands of the jobs in stores and the jobs in distribution centre are very different.
“They operate in different market sectors and we pay the market rate in those sectors regardless of gender. ”