Julie Taylor, Partner and HR specialist at award-winning law firm Gardner Leader, comments on the implications of today's (March 26th) Supreme Court ruling in the Asda Stores V Brierley case, dismissing Asda's equal pay claim appeal.

"The Supreme Court has issued the latest ruling this morning in the long running equal pay dispute with over 35,000 Asda shop based, mostly female, employees for equal pay in comparison with the mostly male employees in their warehouses. 

"The decision dismissed Asda's appeal on a preliminary issue, confirming that the shop and warehouse workers could compare themselves and does not come as much of a surprise given Asda's previously dismissed appeals at the Employment Appeal Tribunal and the Court of Appeal.   

"Asda has maintained throughout the proceedings that it does not believe retail shop staff can compare their work to their counterparts within the distribution centres, despite the fact that both groups share common terms and conditions of employment. This decision is very important, especially in recent times where key workers, such as supermarket retail staff, have been on the frontline maintaining all our access to essential supplies. This work has been just as important as the work of those in the distribution centres, and this decision recognises that the work can be compared for the purposes of the equal pay claims.   

"The outcome does not mean the equal pay claims immediately succeed, but the claimants have established that they can compare themselves with their higher paid male colleagues in the warehouses and this will have implications for the supermarket sector and wider retail industry as many business structures are set up in a similar manner. In Asda's case, both sets of employees were subject to the same terms and conditions, which also suggested the work was closely aligned and the tribunal process will now consider the equal pay claims further.  

"The sad point highlighted by this case is that, although we would like to believe things have moved on from the introduction of the Equal Pay legislation in the 1970s, there still remains a division in pay for men and women. Moving forward, we may see a rise in equal pay claims and this outcome may empower employees, especially women, to hold employers, whether private or public, more accountable for pay. Employers will need to carefully evaluate the salaries and job specifications, reflecting this in the contracts and recognise where the workforce falls within the "same employment" for equal pay purposes."