Asda workers win major step in equal pay claim battle
More than 9,500 women who work at Asda have won a step forward in their battle for equal pay.
An employment tribunal has ruled that the women, who mainly work at check-outs or stacking shelves, can compare themselves to higher paid men who work at warehouses.
The women feel they are paid less than others, despite their roles being of equal value.
Asda said it "continued to strongly dispute the claims".
The difference in pay between the predominantly female staff who work in store, and the mainly male staff who work in the distribution centres, is between £1 and £3 an hour, the lawyers making the claim said.
If the claims are successful, it could mean workers recovering more than £100m in back pay, going back to 2002, and pay rises in the future.
'Far reaching implications'
"This is a dramatic victory for the workers we represent," said Lauren Lougheed a lawyer in the employment team at Leigh Day, who is representing the Asda claimants.
"Asda tried to argue that because the shops and distribution centres were in different locations, with different pay arrangements, that Asda could pay the men what they like.
"However, the employment tribunal found that Asda, the employer of both men and women, could have made sure that there was equal pay between men and women if they wanted to, but chose not to.
"This judgment will have far reaching implications on other supermarket equal pay claims including those we are bringing on behalf of around 400 Sainsbury's workers who are in a similar situation."
But Asda said the outcome of the tribunal was "technical" issue and did not "determine the eventual outcome of the case".
"The tribunal has yet to consider whether the jobs are of equal value in terms of their demands and if some jobs are, only then will the tribunal move on to consider the reasons for the differentials, including the existence of different market rates in different industry sectors," the supermarket said.
"We continue to strongly dispute the claims being made against us. We believe that the demands of the jobs are very different and are considering our options for appeal."
"Pay rates in stores differ from pay rates in distribution centres for legitimate reasons, including the different market rates for different jobs in different sectors."
The ruling from the Manchester Employment Tribunal means that test cases will now be brought.
Analysis: Emma Simpson, BBC business reporter
There's a lot at stake in this legal action, not just for Asda but for lots of other retailers as well.
Asda rightly points out that this preliminary hearing has only ruled on whether jobs in a depot are comparable to those in its stores.
It is now for another tribunal to consider whether the jobs are of equal value.
But every retailer with a distribution centre as well as stores will be watching this case. Leigh Day now have 9,500 claimants waiting in the wings. It hopes to bring at least one test case next year.
The judge acknowledged the financial implications of the claims would be very great. Leigh Day reckons if successful, it could recover more than £100m going back more than 15 years.
No wonder Asda will be fighting this all the way.