Six Year Time Limit for Equal pay Claims
Employees are likely to have six years to bring equal pay claims following a recent Court of Appeal decision.
Employees have always been able to bring equal pay claims as breach of contract claims in the civil courts on the basis of a breach of the implied equality clause. However, civil courts have a discretion to strike out the claim if they consider it could more conveniently be disposed of by an employment tribunal which is the more natural home for an equal pay claim.
The time limit for bringing breach of contract claims in the civil courts is six years from the breach. The time limit for bringing an equal pay claim in the employment tribunal is six months from the end of the employment and this cannot be extended.
In Birmingham City Council v Abdulla, the claimants brought equal pay claims in the High Court. They were out of time for bringing an employment tribunal claim as they only became aware of their potential claims when their former colleagues were successful in their equal pay claims. The Council argued that the court should exercise its discretion to strike out the claim on the basis that it could more conveniently be disposed of by an employment tribunal.
The High Court refused to strike out the claims and the Court of Appeal agreed. It held that if an equal pay claim would be out of time if brought in the employment tribunal, a court should give this factor significant weight when deciding whether to exercise its strike out discretion. It also said that the reason why the claimants did not bring the claim in time in the employment tribunal was irrelevant.
The employer has applied for leave to appeal to the Supreme Court.
As a result, if a claimant brings an equal pay claim in the civil courts where it would be out of time in the employment tribunal, it is very likely that the civil courts will allow the claim to proceed. Claimants will generally therefore have six years to bring equal pay claims rather than the six months permitted in the employment tribunal.
This decision overrules the High Court decision in Ashby v Birmingham City Council – where the court held that the reason why a claimant did not lodge their claim in time in the employment tribunal was a relevant consideration for the court when deciding whether to exercise its discretion to strike out the claim.
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