Female professor loses equal pay appeal

Law scales

A female University of London professor has lost a sex discrimination case against her employer after it was found that her male colleagues’ bonus payments were retention fees, despite her claim that the university’s genuine material factor defence was tainted.

The claimant was appointed to the university in 1996 and claimed that six male professors had been advantaged in terms of pay over her. Only two remained by the time of the tribunal.

The claimant argued that her pay was significantly less in total than that of the male professors, which the tribunal found to be so, attributing it to three main factors: difference in starting salary, difference in annual increments, and bonus payments made to the professors to retain their services.

The employment tribunal found that the bonuses had been paid for wholly genuine reasons, and due to the fact that the claimant had never knowingly been approached by another institution, a similar retention payment had not been offered to her.

The tribunal also decided that the genuine material factor defence put forward under the Equal Pay Act 1970 made out that the differences in pay were unrelated to sex. The claimant appealed.

The appeal was dismissed by the Employment Appeal Tribunal despite the claimant’s argument that because men were more likely to be mobile, they were more likely to receive retention payments.

Louise Mason, a senior associate at law firm Hogan Lovells, said: “A complicating factor in the case was that the claimant sought to argue that the genuine material factor was tainted by sex and inherently discriminatory. 

“It was argued on behalf of the claimant that men were more likely to be headhunted by other employers and therefore to receive retention payments, as they were more likely to be mobile than women. However, the argument did not progress, since the evidence put forward in support of it was found to be insufficient.”