Confusion over court ruling

// 4 October 2006

Yesterday’s news that the European Court of Justice overturned a ruling which would have given considerable ammunition to women who come back to work after a child-related career break to find they are paid less than male colleagues dominated the headlines today.

But while the majority of British newspapers reported this as a setback, the Guardian led with a story so different it is hard to believe it was reporting on the same case.

The Guardian said:

Employers cannot lawfully pay some workers much higher salaries than others solely on the ground of long service, the European court of justice ruled yesterday in a judgment that will force thousands of employers to review their pay schemes.

But the Times said:

Legal experts today questioned whether a landmark European court ruling that allows employers to continue to reward staff based on length of service discriminates against younger workers.

Yesterday’s ruling from the European Court of Justice, billed as the most important sex discrimination judgment for ten years, means that women who take time out to care for their children have no automatic right to the same rate of pay as colleagues who have not taken career breaks.

From a cursory examination of the legal documents, which are available online, the picture is just as obscure (although this could, of course, just be because they are legal documents).

The documents also bring to light more interesting details about this particular case. For example, Cadman’s coworkers had chalked up more time on the job, but most of this was in more junior positions. She was, effectively, promoted ahead of them. To me, this casts even more doubt on the justification for paying them more.

The fact that she was seemingly fast tracked should at least imply that she was considered better than the average employee on the career ladder. It also means that her coworkers were not being rewarded for extra experience at that particular job.

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