Major Triumph for Next Employees in Landmark Equal Pay Battle

Over 2,000 Next store staff involved in an equal pay lawsuit against the company have achieved a decisive victory in the crucial second stage of their legal fight. The ruling confirms that their roles are indeed equivalent to the warehouse jobs they are comparing themselves to.

The employees, who are or were sales consultants for Next, contended that their job responsibilities were of equal value to those of Next’s warehouse workers and therefore should be compensated at the same rate. Next disputed the claim of equal work.

In a unanimous decision, the Employment Tribunal in Leeds has ruled that the three lead claimants, representing all the sales consultants involved in the case, indeed performed work that was comparable in value to the jobs of the male warehouse workers they compared themselves to.

Next, with over 15,000 sales consultants employed across its 400+ stores in the UK, continues to see an increasing number of current and former sales consultants joining the legal action. If successful, the final compensation amount could reach tens of millions of pounds.

This recent victory represents a significant milestone in the ongoing legal battle that began in May 2018. It also grants the women the right to proceed to the final stage of their fight for equal pay.

Equal Pay cases typically go through three stages. First, the claimants must establish their legal right to compare their store roles with warehouse roles. Next, they must prove the equality in value between the roles being compared. If successful in both stages, the employer must then provide a legitimate reason why the jobs should not be paid equally, known as the material factor defense.

Next conceded the comparability stage of the case in 2021. The triumph means that the burden of proof now shifts to Next to present evidence to the Employment Tribunal justifying why, despite the jobs being equal, the store staff should not have their pay and terms aligned automatically with those of the warehouse workers. This hearing is anticipated to take place in March 2024.

If the store staff also succeed in that hearing, the tribunal will proceed to address their compensation. They will be entitled to receive the pay difference between their wages and the wages of the warehouse workers for up to six years, starting from the initiation of their claims until the conclusion of the case. Their contracts will also be modified to include equal terms moving forward.

Leigh Day, the legal representation, is concurrently handling similar equal pay claims on behalf of over 85,000 supermarket shop floor workers against Asda, Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Morrisons, and Co-op. These cases are at various stages in the process and have not yet completed the initial two stages. The first equal pay claim against Asda achieved success in the Employment Tribunal on the comparability stage in October 2016. However, Asda subsequently appealed the decision to the Employment Appeal Tribunal and the Court of Appeal. In both instances, the rulings favored the shop floor workers in 2017 and 2019, respectively.

Asda exhausted its final opportunity to argue against the comparability of roles at the Supreme Court in March 2021. The claim is now progressing through the equal value stage, encompassing a broader range of positions compared to the Next claims. The issue of equal value in the Asda claim will be determined in a hearing scheduled for September 2024. The other supermarket claims are also proceeding through the initial stages.

The Next store staff are being represented by Elizabeth George, a barrister and partner at Leigh Day, and Andrew Short KC of Outer Temple.

Elizabeth George said:

“We are delighted that our Next clients have won this crucial battle. It is a legal win, obviously, but it means a great deal more than that to the people bringing these claims. The sales consultants, overwhelmingly women, had been told by Next that their work is not as demanding as the warehouse operative’s work and so does not attract equal pay and other benefits currently denied to them.

“Independent Job Experts appointed by the Employment Tribunal to compare the roles have found, unanimously, that the work is equal. The experts’ conclusions were emphatic, and the tribunal has agreed with them. The end is now in sight for the sales consultants after a battle lasting five years.”