The High Court has held that an equal pay claim brought six months after the end of employment, can proceed as a breach of contract claim in the civil courts, despite the fact it would be out of time in an employment tribunal.
All 174 of the High Court equal pay claims, brought by Birmingham City Council employees against the Council, would have been out of time (i.e. more than six months after the end of their employment) if brought in an employment tribunal.
The Council argued that the High Court should 'strike-out' the claims, on the basis that they would be better dealt with by an employment tribunal. The court disagreed with this and held that under the Equal Pay Act, there is no obligation on the court to 'strike-out' a claim solely on the basis that it would be more 'conveniently' dealt with by an employment tribunal who, because of the strict six-month time limit, would have declined hearing it.
The court held that there was no reason why the claimants should be 'debarred' and denied the opportunity of bringing a civil court claim. The claims were allowed to proceed on the basis that they were within the six-year time limit for contract claims and had a real prospect of success.
This case is a reminder to employers that a former employee who has not made a claim within six months of leaving employment, may still have up to six years to bring a contractual claim in the civil courts.