The Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) has upheld a ruling that Somerset County Council unfairly prevented a retired female teacher rejoining its pension scheme after she returned to work on a part-time basis.
The EAT’s judgment, delivered at the beginning of October, deemed the local authority to be in breach of the Equal Pay Act 1970 because a rule around its teachers’ pension scheme unfairly disadvantaged women.
Somerset County Council did not distinguish between part-time and full-time workers except for a rule that applied to teachers who retire and then return to work. If on their return they worked full time then they were allowed to join the pension, whereas those who returned part time could not.
This affected the claimant who worked part-time for 14 years following her retirement.
The EAT deemed this practice to be discriminatory because the majority of the staff affected by the rule were women, as they were more likely to return to work on a part-time basis. It heard that over a period of 13 years, 58% of a selected pool of employees affected were female, compared with 42% male.
Kathleen Healy, employment partner at Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, said the case serves as a reminder that unless an employer can prove any difference is trivial, there will be a breach of the legislation.
She added: “Employers who try to defend such claims often seek to challenge the pools that the claimants have chosen, or argue that the extent of any disproportionate impact is minimal.
“Provided [a complainant] can show that any disparity is not trivial or insignificant, they don’t need [to prove] a substantial disparate impact for there to be a breach of sex discrimination legislation or, as here, the Equal Pay Act.”