Goldman Sachs £170m equal pay settlement could open the door to a wave of UK claims

 (ES Composte)
(ES Composte)

Earlier this month, Goldman Sachs agreed to pay a hefty sum in order to settle a US sex discrimination lawsuit. The investment bank had been accused of offering unequal pay and fewer opportunities to female staff.

The settlement is one of the largest to-date, especially regarding issues of equal pay in the US. This case, brought on behalf of approximately 2,800 female Vice Presidents and Associates at Goldman, certainly grabbed headlines across the globe.

The gravity of this case and the eye-watering settlement sum was due to the employees joining together in a ‘class action’. This is where claimants of a single ‘class’ have the same or similar claim against the same company or individual and are joined together in their legal proceedings. Class action has been a fixture in the US for many years, which is by nature a more litigious nation than the UK.  But is class action of this magnitude only reserved for the United States?

‘Group action’ in the UK is much rarer, but group litigation has started to garner serious attention in recent years, with long running equal pay claims currently being fought in the UK Employment Tribunals in relation to supermarket employees. To date, the UK hasn’t seen group action in the employment tribunal against professional services for equal pay or discrimination matters. That said, the two nations arrived at a similar position on women’s football (or soccer in the US) not too long ago. Following a long-running equal pay dispute in the US, female soccer players achieved agreement for identical pay structures for male and female players. In the UK, part-way through this US pay equity litigation, the FA announced that England men’s and women’s teams would receive equal pay.

The question is whether we could now see group action in the Employment Tribunal against banks in the UK,

The answer is possibly. As a nation, we are generally seeing a rise in group action. It has been reported that there are a number of group action cases affecting UK banks listed on the UK’s FTSE 100 index who are reportedly facing at least 109 class-action lawsuits on issues like interest rate manipulation and terrorist financing. The fact that many former and current female employees at Goldman following this landslide settlement have been speaking out about unequal treatment and lack of opportunities, could galvanize group litigation in the UK.

The case will undoubtedly be a wakeup call to the financial and professional services industries in the UK to get their house in order and look at their own equal pay audit processes, and be ready to deal with potential increased scrutiny from regulators, the courts and their own staff.

In this case, the Goldman news was so high-profile and got in front of so many people world-wide. It will have demonstrated that people can win these cases, and group actions can be a viable route to achieving that.

Emily Chalkley is a Senior Associate in the Employment team of law firm Charles Russell Speechlys