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Court of Appeal allows appeal by borough council in equal pay dispute

The Court of Appeal has overturned an Employment Appeal Tribunal ruling in an equal pay case brought by female employees at Reading Borough Council.

In Butt & Ors v Reading Borough Council [2020] EWCA Civ 1642 Lord Justice Underhill and Lord Justice Lewis said that the original decision of the Employment Tribunal should be reinstated.

The case began in 2008 when 150 women started equal pay proceedings.

After a complicated series of legal cases the employment tribunal ruled in July 2018 in the council’s favour that claims presented as part of an earlier case known as the Gordon multiple “do not include complaints about equal pay which pre-date 1 May 2011”, when Reading introduced a new pay structure.

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Lavender J allowed the employees' appeal at the Employment Appeal Tribunal.

The Court of Appeal’s task, Underhill LJ said, was to decide whether, on an objective construction of the claim form “it advanced claims in respect of breaches of the equal pay legislation occurring in the period prior to 1 May 2011”.

He concluded: “In my view the EAT was wrong to overturn the decision of the Employment Tribunal.”

The clear effect of the grounds, read as a whole, was that the claims were confined to the period following the introduction of the new pay structure in 2011, not those that arose before.

Underhill LJ noted that the claimants' solicitors “took the trouble to bring the two separate proceedings simultaneously” dealing with cases before and after 2011 which “clearly suggests that they understood that the claims were of different characters”.

Mark Smulian

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