Significant equal pay win for Yorkshire woman thanks to help from UNISON

Kathy Wright has worked as an IT specialist in South Yorkshire for over two decades. But for a significant period of that time, she was being paid less than her male colleague. Kathy challenged the employer – and won. This is her story…

“I started working at Rotherham Council in 2003”, Kathy says. “My work was in third-line IT support, as a specialist in IT messaging. It was just me, one other colleague and the team leader in the Internet and Messaging team.

“I found out in 2019 that my colleague who I worked alongside had been paid at a grade higher than me.”

Kathy’s colleague had been paid a grade higher than her since 2005. Although she had received some on-the-job training, she had been working at the same level, carrying out the same kind of tasks, since 2009 or earlier.

“I was outraged at this inequality, particularly coming from a public sector organisation who are supposed to be paragons of equality”, Kathy says. “Why did they not value my work the same as his?”

Kathy tried to raise the issue and challenge it, without success – being told HR staff couldn’t look into it because of the Covid pandemic.

It was at this point she contacted UNISON.

“My self-esteem and confidence was destroyed”, she says. “Harassment started from my superior, and I left as it made me ill. That’s why I turned to UNISON.

“The support I received was fantastic. My UNISON branch supported me to challenge the council’s position – raising a grievance, gathering supporting evidence and presenting in formal meetings.

“When the council dug in their heels and refused to listen, my case was referred to the region. I was put in contact with Thompsons solicitors, through UNISON legal services, and was able to file an equal pay claim.

“Thompsons were great, guiding me through every step and keeping me informed.”

It was a long process for Kathy. It took almost five years in total, and involved lots of preparing for the trial. “I had to go through around 1000 documents in the month prior to the tribunal (in my spare time whilst holding down a full-time job, burning the midnight oil), to comment on or highlight text in order to inform the barrister and answer his questions.”

Then, in 2023, came the two hearings.

“Two weeks in court giving evidence and commenting on RMBC witnesses’ evidence was intimidating, even though it was held over Teams due to my disability.

“They had five witnesses to my one. There were 31 people listening in to the hearing, most of which were from RMBC’s HR department or senior managers.

“Outside court, I spent hours talking to the barrister and solicitor when legally allowed. My barrister was excellent, and was also a firm believer in equality. The judge was very fair and kind, allowing me rest breaks.”

It was Christmas Eve when Kathy received a phone call from her solicitor, letting her know the three-person panel had reached an unanimous verdict. “There were no material differences between what I did and what my male counterpart did.

“I was so happy to be given justice at last I was jumping for joy.  I was driven to ensure that RMBC did not treat other women in the same way.”

However, the stress of the process caused Kathy to become very ill for a few months after the verdict, bringing back the emotional pain and trauma she’d suffered at the time.

Once it was confirmed no appeal was going to be launched, Kathy received financial settlement worth around £30,000.

“I can’t thank UNISON and Thompson’s enough for believing in me and enabling this – righting a wrong, and hopefully preventing other women being disadvantaged and having to go through what I did”, says Kathy.

She left the job she’d been doing at the time of the verdict, taking a month off work to recover and get her health back. “I applied for another job during this time and was lucky enough to get it,” she says. “I’m now once again an IT Systems Administrator working for a different public sector organisation, where I’m thriving and treated with respect by lovely professional colleagues and managers.

“I’m healthier, much happier, my confidence has returned, and I am a fully-paid-up member of UNISON again (rather than paying the lower rate whilst my case was going through).

“To all those that aren’t a member, I say you never know what is round the corner in life and it’s always better to have support on your side.”

UNISON’s head of legal Shantha David said: “This case highlights the ongoing issue of pay inequality in the workplace. UNISON is committed to fighting for fair treatment and equal pay for all workers, regardless of gender.

“We commend Ms Wright for her courage in standing up against discrimination and are pleased to see justice served. This ruling sends a clear message to employers about the importance of equality and fairness.”

James Cooper from Thompsons Solicitors said: “This judgment is a significant victory not only for Ms. Wright but all employees facing similar pay disparities.

“The Tribunal’s decision reinforces the importance of equal pay for equal work and holds employers accountable for unjust practices.

“We are proud to have represented Ms Wright and will continue to support her in ensuring she receives the remuneration and recognition she deserves.”