Asda Equal Pay claims continue in the Employment Tribunal
Asda has lost its application for an indefinite stay in proceedings. Asda was hoping for the equal pay claims to be heard in the High Court, but the Employment Tribunal (ET) does not have the power to transfer proceedings to the High Court. Asda sought to argue that the ET does, however, have the power to stay proceedings indefinitely and that in doing so, the Claimants would be compelled to go to the High Court to pursue their claims.
At first instance, the ET rejected Asda’s application for an indefinite stay in proceedings on this basis, concluding that it did not have a power to impose an indefinite stay for this reason and that, in any event, it would not be appropriate to exercise any such power in the present case. The Employment Appeal Tribunal agreed with ET.
Asda appealed to the Court of Appeal, on the basis that whilst the Employment Tribunal, is well suited to hear many equal value claims, it is not suited to hearing the Asda claims because they are exceptional in nature. Asda said that these claims are the most important, complex and financially significant equal pay claims ever pursued in the private sector. The Company said that the cases involve very complex points of law and that it would be more appropriate for the High Court to consider them, than an employment Judge. Asda argued that the decision would have ramifications for the retail trade across the board.
The Court of Appeal held that whilst the Employment Tribunal did have the power to stay proceedings, even indefinitely, this should not happen in the present case. Such a stay in proceedings, would be prejudicial to the employees. They would have to start proceedings again with further stress, Court fees, possible limitation issues and the risk of legal costs if they lost.
The Court of Appeal found that the Employment Judge at first instance had exercised his discretion properly and had considered all of the issues. He was entitled to take the view that an Employment Tribunal was perfectly capable of handling the claims. Elias LJ, said that the assumption that Employment Tribunals would not be up to the task, did less than justice to the quality of some outstanding Judges who sit in the Employment Tribunals.
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