There was good news and bad news yesterday (7 Feb) for disputes shop Leigh Day, first announcing an ambitious equal pay claim against Tesco, that could see the supermarket giant pay out £4bn in compensation to its workers. But the firm was later brought back down to earth by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA), which revealed it would formally appeal a decision that acquitted three of Leigh Day’s lawyers of misconduct.
The Tesco pay controversy relates to an alleged discrepancy in hourly rates between the retailer’s male and female staff. Leigh Day argues that in the company’s predominantly male-dominated distribution centres, staff can earn in excess of £11 an hour, while workers in more female-dominated Tesco stores are paid around £8 an hour.
The action is being led by employment specialist Paula Lee, who contends that ‘an inherent bias has allowed store workers to be underpaid for many years’. The firm has already started submitting claims to the Employment Tribunal, with the belief that around 200,000 Tesco employees have been affected by the pay discrepancy.
Leigh Day has confirmed that the claim will not be backed by a third party funder and that each claimant will make their own individual claim, rather than form a class action.
But the fanfare abruptly ended when the SRA announced its intention to rekindle its dispute against Leigh Day and three of its lawyers: co-founder and name partner Martyn Day, partner Sapna Malik and assistant solicitor Anna Crowther.
In June 2017 the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT) had cleared the Leigh Day trio of allegations of pursuing false damages claims of torture and murder made by Iraqi civilians against British troops in Iraq.
The SRA had originally brought proceedings before the SDT in 2016 after the completion of the £31m Al-Sweady public inquiry. The inquiry explored allegations of unlawful killing and ill treatment of Iraqi nationals by British troops in Iraq in 2004.
The case was the longest trial ever heard before the SDT, lasting seven weeks in total with more than 200 individual allegations made against the individuals and the firm.
A spokesperson for Leigh Day said: ‘we remain confident in the decision reached by the SDT in June last year, but naturally uphold the rule of law, and therefore, if the SRA choose to appeal the verdict of the SDT that is entirely a decision for them.’