Some 35,000 Asda shop floor workers, most of whom are women, have brought equal pay claims against the supermarket, on the grounds that male staff working in distribution depots unjustly receive higher wages. The fight has so far taken 13 years.
Supermarket staff could be entitled to several years’ back pay if they win, lawyers say.
Leigh Day, the firm representing the workers, is also working for clients from Sainsbury’s, Tesco, Morrisons and Co-op in similar equal pay cases. lf all these supermarkets lose their cases, they could be ordered to pay workers around £8 billion.
Supreme Court justices will today consider whether Asda supermarket staff are entitled to compare their wages to those of distribution staff for equal pay purposes.
An Employment Tribunal judge decided that supermarket staff were entitled to compare themselves nearly four years ago, a decision which was upheld by Court of Appeal judges last year.
However, Asda bosses say the roles are not comparable, and have taken the case to the Supreme Court.
Five justices are listed to consider the case at a virtual Supreme Court hearing over two days, although they will not deliver their ruling until later in the year.
Law firm Leigh Day, which has been instructed by bosses at the GMB union, is representing Asda supermarket workers.
Lawyer Lauren Lougheed, an employment law specialist at Leigh Day, said she was hopeful that supermarket staff would win the case and ”prove once and for all that the roles are comparable”.
Leigh Day lawyers say even if the Supreme Court justices rule in their favour, the supermarket workers’ fight will not end there.
The employees will still then have to show that supermarket and distribution roles are of equal value, and that gender discrimination was the only reason they were not paid equally.
A Leigh Day spokeswoman said there would be implications for all major supermarkets if the Asda supermarket staff won their fight.
She said lawyers believed that if the 500,000 eligible supermarket workers across the industry made successful claims against their former employees, the companies could owe a total of £8 billion in compensation.
The Standard online has reached out Asda for comment.