Sainsbury’s fails to get equal pay claim struck out

sainsbury's equal pay claim
Image: Owen Humphreys/PA Archive/PA Images

The equal pay claim being pursued by hundreds of Sainsbury’s staff can continue to be heard, an employment tribunal has ruled, after the supermarket tried to get it struck out on a technicality.

Law firm Leigh Day is representing around 2,000 Sainsbury’s shop floor staff – predominantly women – who argue they are doing work of equal value to those in its distribution centres – who are mainly men – and should therefore be paid the same.

Leigh Day had grouped multiple claimants together on the same claim form for its submission to the employment tribunal. However Sainsbury’s argued this did not comply with the tribunal rules and that the claims where women in stores did different jobs should be struck out.

The law firm argued that the tribunal should use its discretion to let the claims continue, as stipulated under Rule 6 of The Employment Tribunals Rules of Procedure 2013, which sets out the steps the tribunal could take if different equal pay claims are made in one claim form. It said putting multiple claimants on one form did not change how the claims were processed; the types of claim that Sainsbury’s would have to defend; the witness evidence; or the length of the hearing.

The employment tribunal allowed the Sainsbury’s workers’ claims to continue. The same issue was raised in the Asda equal pay claim in 2015, but the Court of Appeal ruled that the claims could proceed.

The next stage of the process will involve determining which of the higher paid warehouse roles is comparative to the shop floor role.

Had Sainsbury’s been successful in arguing that the rules had been breached, the amount of compensation due to the claimants would have been lowered, according to Linda Wong, solicitor for the Sainsbury’s workers.

“This was yet another attempt by Sainsbury’s to delay the courts from making a decision about whether they have an equal pay problem,” she said.

“These claims started in 2015, and Sainsbury’s have continued to drag their feet and raise petty issues in an attempt to stall the claims. Previous judgments in the Court of Appeal have made it clear equal pay claims such as these issued together should proceed. Sainsbury’s would be better placed working to pay their employees fairly and resolve these claims rather than to delay the legal process with unnecessary challenges.”

Leigh Day is representing more than 35,000 shop floor staff at the “big five” supermarkets – Asda, Sainsbury’s, Tesco, Morrisons and the Co-Op – in similar equal pay cases. Earlier this year it estimated that the total value of claims brought against the supermarkets – assuming all 500,000 eligible store staff claim and win – could be over £8 billion.

In January the Court of Appeal ruled that shop floor staff could compare themselves to warehouse workers.

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