New Judgment: Birmingham City Council v Abdulla & Ors  UKSC 47
24 Wednesday Oct 2012
On appeal from:  EWCA Civ 281.
The respondents issued claims alleging that the appellant employer was in breach of a clause inserted into their employment contracts by the Equal Pay Act 1970, s 1, which provided for equal pay for equivalent work. The claims could have been brought in an employment tribunal but the respondents did not do so within the time limit – they instead issued the claims in the High Court, which has a longer limitation period. It was for the Supreme Court to determine whether the discretion to strike out claims contained in s 2(3) of the 1970 Act should be exercised on the grounds these claims would be more conveniently dealt with by an employment tribunal.
Held: the local authority’s appeal was dismissed by a majority (Lords Sumption and Carnwath dissenting). The six month limitation period set for employment tribunal claims had never been made extendable, which suggested that Parliament recognised the availability of an alternative claim process in the High Court. Such claims could never count as able to be more conveniently disposed of by a tribunal if they would be dismissed for being out of time, save for abuses of process. It was noted that Parliament may wish to consider introducing a relaxation of the limitation period for bringing such claims in the employment tribunals. Lord Sumption, dissenting, considered that allowing the claims to proceed in the High Court frustrated the underlying policy behind the limitation period, and that limitation was a particularly important defence for employers facing equal treatment claims.