Care workers at Sheffield Council could receive a share of £20m compensation after the Appeal Court ruled that the authority’s bonus system discriminated against female staff.
The Yorkshire council had been paying performance-related bonuses to male-dominated jobs such as gardeners and street cleaners since the 1960s, but not to workers on equivalent wages, such as care workers, where staff are predominantly female.
With the backing of Unison, female care staff and dinner ladies successfully argued that the system unfairly discriminated against them. The Court of Appeal dismissed Sheffield Council’s argument that there was no gender bias and the only reason for not paying bonuses to care workers was that it was not practical to do so.
At a hearing in London, Lord Justice Pill upheld the appeal against an earlier decision by an employment tribunal. The system was “discriminatory”, he said, and in breach of the Equal Pay Act 1970.
“The scheme has a disparately adverse effect on women’s work as compared with men’s work and the sexual taint is present,” he said.
Bronwyn McKenna, Unison’s director of organising and membership, said the judgement would allow other staff across the country to launch similar claims.
“The Court of Appeal has recognised that these women were discriminated against not on the basis of their work, but because of their gender,” she said.
A spokesperson for the union added: “If the tribunal says compensation should be paid, thousands more Sheffield Council workers are likely to claim and we have worked out that the authority could end up having to pay out as much as £20m.”
Sheffield Council’s director of human resources, Julie Toner, said the authority was considering appealing against the decision because “the original hearing supported the council’s position”.
However, McKenna said she hoped the council “faced up to its responsibilities to pay its women workers fairly” and accepted the judgement.
“The women involved in this case have already been forced to jump through a number of legal hurdles to get the fair pay they deserve.”