Asda has lost the latest round of a long-running legal battle with its staff over equal pay.
The retail giant challenged an Employment Appeal Tribunal decision that jobs in Asda stores are comparable with those in the firm’s distribution centres.
Giving judgment at the Court of Appeal in London on Thursday, senior judges dismissed Asda’s appeal and ruled in favour of thousands of retail workers, mostly women, who argue they should be paid the same as those working in the supermarket’s depots.
Lord Justice Underhill, sitting with Lord Justice Peter Jackson and Lord Sales, ruled that for both retail workers and distribution workers “Asda applied common terms and conditions wherever they work”.
The judge added that Asda’s application to appeal to the Supreme Court had been refused.
The claimants, however, still have to demonstrate that the roles are of equal value and, if they are, that there is not a reason other than sex discrimination which means the roles should not be paid equally.
In a statement after the ruling, Linda Wong, from Leigh Day, who is acting on behalf of supermarket workers, hailed the ruling as a “major victory”.
She added: “We now hope that rather than continuing to spend huge sums of money thwarting attempts to pay their staff what they are worth, Asda and the other major supermarkets pay their staff fairly as these workers are also their customers and fair wages benefit all businesses and UK society in general.”
Leigh Day, which says it represents more than 30,000 shop floor workers at Asda, Sainsbury’s, Tesco and Morrisons, estimates the total value of all 500,000 claims being brought against the big four supermarkets – if they lose their cases and are ordered to pay all eligible staff – could be more than £8 billion.
Responding to the judgment, an Asda spokesman confirmed that the retail giant would renew its application to appeal against the ruling at the Supreme Court.
The spokesman said: “We are obviously disappointed with the decision, which relates to a preliminary issue of whether jobs in different parts of the business can be compared.
“Asda brought this appeal because it involved complex legal issues which have never been fully tested in the private sector and we will continue to ensure this case is given the legal scrutiny it deserves.
“We remain confident in our case. This appeal has caused no delay to the main case, which has been continuing in the employment tribunal.”
They added: “Pay rates in stores differ from pay rates in distribution centres because the demands of the jobs in stores and the jobs in distribution centres are very different.
“They operate in different market sectors and we pay the market rate in those sectors regardless of gender.”