Labour Research October 2004

Features: Law matters

Council victimised catering workers over equal pay claim

A letter sent by St Helen's Borough Council to employees who had issued equal pay claims was victimisation, the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) has held.

In 1998, 510 catering staff brought equal pay claims against the council. Most were settled prior to a hearing; however, Mrs Derbyshire and 38 colleagues refused to accept the terms offered and proceeded with their claims, backed by the GMB union.

Two months before the tribunal hearing, the council wrote to all the catering staff suggesting that, if the claims succeeded, children might be deprived of school meals and their colleagues might lose their jobs.

Derbyshire and her colleagues then claimed for victimisation, saying that the letter tried to intimidate them into abandoning their claims and to blame them for the consequences if their claims were successful.

"Victimisation" under the Sex Discrimination Act 1975 (SDA) is unfavourable treatment of someone because they have taken action against or made an allegation of discrimination. The Act protects against victimisation resulting from claims under either the SDA or the Equal Pay Act 1970, and also protects those who give evidence or information in proceedings.

The tribunal, and later the EAT, found that the council had tried to persuade staff to discontinue the claims, in a way that would almost inevitably lead to criticism from their colleagues. This amounted to victimisation, even though there was no direct threat to the workers.

* St Helens MBC v Derbyshire & Others UKEAT/0952/03