Kay Collins, represented by leading national law firm Leigh Day, pursued the claim against her former employer Compass Group UK & Ireland, after becoming aware of the disparity.
Bristol Employment Tribunal found that Ms Collins performed ‘the same or broadly similar work’ to that of male head chefs employed by the group and was entitled to equal pay.
Ms Collins, now 58, and from Weston-super-Mare said: “It was really upsetting to find that someone less experienced and less qualified and 12 years younger than me was earning more money than I was. I had worked for Compass for many years and had an impeccable record and yet my male colleague who had worked there for three years and was less experienced than me was earning more.”
The case was settled following the employment tribunal’s judgment in Ms Collins’ favour. Terms of the settlement cannot be disclosed.
Ms Collins was employed as a chef for Compass Group from 2006 at its Weston College campus in Weston-Super-Mare, the tribunal heard. She had worked for the major contract catering business for 10 years when she found out about the earnings gap.
In Ms Collins’ evidence, the only difference between her role and that of her male colleague was their respective job titles. He was called head chef while she was labelled a chef. They both however, ran their own kitchen and Ms Collins had previously run the kitchen for which her male colleague is now responsible.
When Ms Collins raised a grievance with Compass Group seeking pay parity with her colleague, the company did not uphold it, responding that he did substantially different work to her.
Compass Group came to this conclusion without actually interviewing her male colleague, and on the basis of information given by a more senior member of the catering team within Compass Group which did not withstand scrutiny when the case reached the employment tribunal.
In most respects Ms Collins’ work and that of her male colleagues contained differences of ‘no practical importance’, the employment tribunal found. Most of their responsibilities were ‘substantially the same’; indeed, Ms Collins ‘appeared to shoulder greater responsibility’ than one of her male comparators in some respects.
The employment tribunal also found that Compass Group’s decision to review one of Ms Collins’ male colleague’s performance and their imposition on him to take on more responsibilities coincided with Ms Collins raising concerns over pay inequality.
Finally, the employment tribunal found against Compass Group on the majority of the grounds upon which it had consistently said that Ms Collins did not do ‘like work’ to that of her male colleagues. Indeed, Compass Group’s own witnesses accepted that their own evidence on a number of these grounds was inaccurate. According to its website, Compass Group employs around 60,000 people in the UK and Ireland, providing services to 1,500 primary schools, 360 secondary schools, more than 80 colleges, and 20 universities.
Ms Collins lawyer, Nick Webster of Leigh Day said: “Our client had to incur the cost, time and emotion of pursuing this matter through the employment tribunal in order to obtain justice and recognition for the work she provided. She was – and is – an exceptional chef whose employer let her down in the most fundamental way by not paying her on a par with men who did the same or broadly similar work to her.”
Ms Collins hopes that by publicising the outcome of her case, other people in a similar situation will challenge gender pay disparity in their own workplace.
Encouraging people to check their pay terms and stand up for their rights, she said: “The Employment Tribunal’s judgment shows that even if your employer refuses to accept your position, this doesn’t mean they are right. If you feel that you have been paid less because of your sex then you must seek legal advice.
“This case has had a huge impact on my life. I am not in work because I was dismissed during the action, and I am struggling to pay my mortgage. All I wanted was I was entitled to.”