The council is facing compensation claims from a large group of female staff who say they were historically paid less than male workers doing equivalent jobs.
Male manual workers such as gardeners, binmen and road sweepers, frequently received bonuses, dating back to the 1990s, which were far higher than those paid to similarly skilled employees working in roles traditionally held by women, the claimants say.
The two parties are currently locked in a long-running legal battle which, if the claimants win, could pave the way for similar payouts in the future.
This week (April 3rd), the employees came a step closer to realising this after the High Court in London ruled in their favour in two key aspects of the case.
The Court of Appeal found against the council’s argument that historic differences in pay were “genuinely due to a material factor other than the difference of sex”, reports the Northern Echo.
It also upheld an employment tribunal finding that, by the time the bonuses paid to mainly male manual workers were stopped, they had “long since ceased to have anything to do with productivity”.
Paul Doran, of Stefan Cross Solicitors Limited, who acted for the women, said: “This is another important step on the long road of achieving justice for my clients.”
However, many of the claimants feel that the case should never have been allowed to drag out for such a long time in the first place.
Eileen Stringer, 59, from High Barnes, Sunderland, told the Sunderland Echo: “It has been a long time coming. This has gone on and on and on. Now, hopefully, there is light at the end of the tunnel.”
Jacky Barnes, a senior catering supervisor at the council, added:”Some reason Sunderland City Council are making a big deal about it.
“I cannot believe they have had the neck not to settle with us up to now, because it’s our money.”