Maternity pay ruling may see equal pay law altered

The government may be forced to change equal pay legislation, after a woman won a nine-year legal battle for the underpayment of maternity pay.

Michelle Alabaster, who started her case against Woolwich building society (now part of Barclays) in 1996 when she was pregnant with her daughter, claimed a recent pay rise of 204.53 had not been included in calculations for her maternity pay.

She claimed the pay rise should have been included, and that her employers were breaking Euro-pean sex discrimination law by underpaying her.

The Court of Appeal last week ruled she should have received the full amount.

It allowed Alabaster to bring her claim to recover underpayment of maternity pay as an equal pay claim.

In so doing, the court did not require her to establish an actual male comparator carrying out equal work – as it would be impossible to do so.

It is established law that a woman on maternity leave is in a special position which is not comparable to that of a man or with that of a woman actually at work. Instead, Alabaster was able to rely on a hypothetical comparator.

The ruling means that the provisions of the 1970 Equal Pay Act will not apply, said Emma Bartlett, employment solicitor at law firm Speechly Bircham.

“The government will now be forced to reconsider amending the Equal Pay Act,” she said.

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