LONDON -- Workers at Britain’s largest grocery chain won the latest round in their equal pay lawsuit Thursday, when the European Union’s Court of Justice ruled that more favorable EU rules governing comparisons between men and women apply to the case.
The case was filed by shop-floor workers at Tesco supermarkets, who are mostly women and claim that they are underpaid in relation to distribution staff, who are mainly men.
The court ruled that such a comparison is valid in this case because Tesco is a “single source” that has the ability to correct any inequity. This applies both to questions of “equal work” and “work of equal value,” according to the court, which has jurisdiction because the case was filed before Britain left the EU.
“Where such pay conditions can be attributed to a single source, the work and the pay of those workers can be compared, even if they work in different establishments,″ the court said in a statement.
A U.K. employment tribunal, which asked for a ruling on the issue, will now determine whether the workers have been fairly paid for their work.
While lawyers for the workers heralded the decision as a major victory for their clients, Tesco said that the case was complex and far from over.
“These roles require different skills and demands which lead to variations in pay — but this has absolutely nothing to do with gender,″ the company said in a statement. “We reward our colleagues fairly for the jobs they do and work hard to ensure that the pay and benefits we offer are fair, competitive and sustainable.”
The U.K. Supreme Court ruled earlier this year that retail workers at the Asda supermarket chain could compare their work to that of warehouse workers in a similar case.
The law firm Leigh Day, which represents the workers, said the European court’s decision reinforces the Supreme Court ruling and it is now time for Tesco to accept this principle.
“This means that employers can no longer hide behind the grey areas of U.K. law,″ Kiran Dauka, a Leigh Day partner, said in a statement. “It’s time for supermarkets to accept that the roles of shop floor workers and distribution center workers are comparable.”