The former Co-op Group HR director Sam Walker has won her industrial tribunal case against the society, on equal pay and unfair dismissal.
She took the Group to the tribunal claiming she had been dismissed after raising issues about her own pay and warning leading figures in the company of a pay gap between men and women performing the same roles.
The tribunal did not agree with Ms Walker’s claim that her sacking was a result of discrimination, but ruled that the Group had “directly discriminated against the claimant on the ground of sex”, because it graded her work as only “partially achieved” without giving her an adequate year-end appraisal.
Ms Walker said: “This is a major victory for women. My case proves that pay discrimination can happen to anyone. I was in a senior position doing a job of equal value to my male senior colleagues, but I was paid significantly less. This is happening to women all over this country.”
She said she would now join forces with Carrie Gracie, the BBC journalist who resigned in protest over the gender pay gap, gender equality campaign the Fawcett Society and Yess Law, a group of lawyers dedicated to resolving workplace disputes without litigation on a new initiative. This has been set up to help women earning £30,000 a year or less who are experiencing pay discrimination.
“Justice is … beyond the reach of most women who simply would not have the resources to bring a claim of this kind,” said Ms Walker. “The law needs to change.
“The Women and Equalities Select Committee is looking at this right now, but more fundamentally we need societal change – why would people want to work for companies who treat their employees differently?
“I want to thank my network of colleagues, family and friends who have supported me through the last three years of hell – and that includes many still employed by the Co-op (you know who you are). I now hope the Co-op responds to this ruling in a way that reflects its stated values, holds those accountable to account and listens to their other female employees who I hope will now feel able to step forward and demand equal pay.”
Sam Smethers, chief executive of the Fawcett Society said: “Sam Walker has achieved a major victory but it has required great personal strength and resources to do so. Most women are simply unable to do what Sam has done.
“This case proves that when women challenge pay discrimination, they win. But so few women have access to justice. So few cases get to tribunal.
“This is why we have launched our Equal Pay Advice Service with Yess Law. Together we will ensure many more women get equal pay.”
A spokesman for the Co-op Group said: “The Manchester Employment Tribunal has announced its decision in the claim brought against the Group by former HR executive Sam Walker. The tribunal dismissed most of Ms Walker’s claims and held that Ms Walker’s dismissal was not discriminatory. We are pleased that the tribunal accepted our evidence in relation to these claims.
“While the tribunal upheld the unfair dismissal claim on procedural grounds, we are pleased it found the Co-op had substantial reasons justifying the termination of Ms Walker’s employment.
“The tribunal upheld the claim for equal pay. We are reviewing the tribunal’s judgement and considering whether to appeal. We maintain we did not pay Ms Walker unfairly and continue to believe we acted in the best interests of our Co-op and its members.”