A female category specialist at UK Power Networks has won an equal pay claim against her employer after being denied equal pay and a promotion for 18 months.
Facts of the Case
- Amy Arnold initially started working for UK Power Networks as a contractor in September 2013 and became a permanently employed category specialist in April 2014. Management indicated that when she became a permanent employee, she would be paid an annual salary of £40,000. Instead, she was offered an annual salary of £22,000, which she negotiated up to £35,000 per annum.
- In December 2014, following discussions with her male colleagues, Arnold discovered that she was being paid less than they were. In January 2015, Arnold was offered a position outside of the company for a higher salary. As she thought her career prospects were more promising at UK Power Networks, she declined the offer but she went on to write to her line manager, raising her concerns over pay, training opportunities, and the fact that she had been offered another role with a different company at a higher salary. She wrote in her email:
It has also come to my attention that there are male individuals in the procurement team that are seemingly less capable than me but are on better pay packages. While I appreciate that everyone has negotiated their individual salaries when joining the business it doesn’t seem appropriate that these individuals who come to me for guidance and advice on a regular basis are earning a higher wage than me.
- On January 27, 2015, Arnold discussed her issues with Head of Operational Procurement Waring and was told that her salary would be increased to reflect her progression if she achieved some professional qualifications. Five months later, after completing several of the required qualifications, Arnold had still heard nothing with regard to her pay review. Further, between March and June 2015, Arnold had also taken on additional responsibility for leading a sub-team, yet no progress had been made on her pay review.
- UK Power Networks continued to move the goalposts. Arnold applied for the role of tactical procurement lead in March 2016; however, she received no reply. In April 2016, the company asked her to send over her qualifications certificates in order to arrange her salary increase, but again she received no reply and nothing was done regarding her pay. In May 2016, a pay increase was agreed again, but only after her mid-year performance review. Arnold achieved her mid-year targets in July 2016. Her pay review was confirmed again; however, a new line manager, Bird, was unable to inform Arnold of when it would take place. Arnold went on to receive an email from Waring claiming that he had no mandate to make salary changes. Some 18 months had now passed since Arnold had raised her original concerns.
- In October 2016, Arnold was short-listed for a new role, along with three other internal candidates: two male and one female. By this time, she had completed all of her qualifications and was fully qualified for the role; however, she was not successful and the role went to a male colleague with less experience. Waring was one of the interviewers. The court noted that he wrote in his comments “desire to progress rather than the attractiveness of the role”.
The tribunal found that Arnold was a victim of direct discrimination due to the failure to appoint her to the position of tactical procurement lead in 2016 and that Arnold was victimised under the Equality Act 2010, the protected act being the raising of a complaint about her pay. The judge wrote:
It is clear that Mr Waring and Mr Bird were equally frustrated, they were annoyed that this matter would not go away. There was a total lack of movement by Mr Waring and Mr Bird seemingly passing it backwards and forwards. The goal posts were changed. The claimant was clearly perceived as a thorn in their side and when the job vacancy came about she clearly was not going to be preferred under any circumstances.
Despite her treatment, Arnold remains an employee of UK Power Networks. The parties reached an agreement on compensation to include an amount for injury to feelings and loss of opportunity. Arnold received a sum of £24,000. The parties also agreed that all members of the UK procurement team were required to undergo training in the Equality Act 2010.
The issue of gender pay discrimination is high on most business agendas at the moment; the new gender pay gap regulations are fueling increased awareness of gender pay disparity amongst employees.
Complaints and grievances about perceived gender pay inequality are likely to increase over the coming months. This case is a clear example of why it is important to treat such issues seriously and in accordance with your grievance procedure. The case cautions against ignoring an employee’s concerns and treating an employee negatively as a result of their raising concerns. A complaint about pay should be dealt with in exactly the same way as any other grievance issue.
It is a credit to Arnold that she persevered with her employer. She probably would have had a strong constructive unfair dismissal claim had she decided to resign.
Written by Daniella McGuigan (partner) and Carrie-Ann Hopkins (practice assistant and legal executive trainee) of Ogletree Deakins