Scores of women who worked for Birmingham City Council won a Supreme Court equal pay compensation fight on Wednesday, which could allow thousands of workers to bring claims over equal pay dating back six years, rather than six months.
Lawyers described the ruling by leading judges today on equal pay compensation claims by women who worked at the local authority as "historic", which would have "huge implications.
In a statement, law firm Leigh Day & Co said the judgment "effectively extends the time limit for equal pay claims from six months to six years, the biggest change to Equal Pay legislation since it was introduced in 1970, with huge implications for thousands of workers".
The case centres on whether claims for equal pay are allowed to go through civil courts, rather than employment tribunals. At present, workers are only allowed to use tribunals and make the claim within six months of leaving their jobs . If they are able to use civil courts, they can bring a claim dating back six years.
Solicitors say the Supreme Court judgment is a "landmark" and the most "radical reform" since equal pay legislation was introduced in 1970.
The Supreme Court decision which was announced at a hearing in London follows rulings in the High Court and the Court of Appeal.
In November, the Court of Appeal said scores of cooks, cleaners, catering and care staff previously employed by Birmingham City Council were entitled to launch pay equality compensation claims in the High Court.
The city council challenged that decision in the Supreme Court the highest court in the UK and will on Wednesday learn whether its appeal has succeeded.
Leigh Day, which represents women trying to launch compensation claims, said today's Supreme Court decision could affect "thousands of potential claimants".
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Before the ruling, a spokesman said: "The Supreme Court will give a landmark judgment ... which could represent the most radical reform to Equal Pay since the original legislation was introduced in 1970 and will have huge implications for thousands of workers."
"If the council is unsuccessful and the Supreme Court were to uphold the decision of the Court of Appeal, it would make it possible for thousands of workers to bring claims against their employers outside of the current time limitation period of six months in the Employment Tribunal."
Under the case, judges heard that more than 170 women were among female workers denied bonuses similar to those handed out to employees in traditionally male-dominated jobs such as refuse collectors, street cleaners, road workers and grave diggers.
The court was told that, in 2007 and 2008, tens of thousands of pounds were paid to female council employees to compensate them. More payments had also been made women who took cases to an employment tribunal.
But only workers still employed or who had recently left were eligible to make claims in a tribunal . Those who had left earlier were caught by a six-month deadline for launching claims.
To get around the deadline, 174 women had started actions for damages in the High Court, which has a six-year deadline for launching claims.
The city council had attempted to have those claims struck out, arguing that under equal pay legislation such claims could only be entertained by an employment tribunal.
Leigh Day said the council had lost in the High Court and the Court of Appeal. Lawyers said they were disappointed that leaders chose to appeal to the Supreme Court rather than negotiate.
Earlier this year, company bosses who lose an employment tribunal claim over equal pay must review the wages of all staff by conducting pay audits, the Government said.
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