Former TalkTalk exec loses equal pay claim

IgorGolovniov /

A former TalkTalk manager who claimed she was paid 40% less than male colleagues has lost an equal pay case at an employment tribunal.

The London Central Employment Tribunal found there was “clear water” between the roles of Rebecca Burke and three male comparators and also dismissed her claim for unfair dismissal. However, it is yet to determine whether the roles were of equal value to the company.

Burke joined TalkTalk in 2015 as programme director for its Lightning project – a scheme involving the roll-out of fibre-optic broadband across York – on an annual salary of £110,000. The role fell into band C of the company’s grading structure.

In October that year, the company suffered a significant cyber-attack. A colleague, programme director for technology Mr Rynehart, was put in charge of the company’s response but in January 2016 the initial aftermath had been dealt with and he returned to his usual role.

At that point, Burke was appointed programme director for the cyber security programme, which was undertaken alongside her usual role as programme director for Lightning. Her role was significantly smaller than the role Mr Rynehart had, as much of the response had been dealt with before her appointment.

In January 2017, another employee took over the cyber security role and Burke returned to her usual position on the Lightning team.

In the following months, the decision was taken to scale down the Lightning project. It had initially been launched with a view to take it nationwide, but the company decided to focus on completing the York roll out at that stage.

In May 2017, Burke was informed that her position would be made redundant on 31 July 2017. She was given the opportunity to apply for other roles, including another role on the Lightning project, but she decided not to. She unsuccessfully appealed the redundancy decision.

Burke took the company to an employment tribunal, which was heard over several dates in January and February this year, claiming that the company had paid her unfairly compared with men in similar roles and that she had been unfairly dismissed.

She said that she should have received the same salaries as TalkTalk’s programme director – consumer; programme director – technology; and mobile operations director, all of whom are male. Their roles are at band B of the company’s grading structure.

However, employment judge Hodgson found that Burke’s work was completely different to that of those she claimed were her comparators, and her role had not had the same level of influence on organisational functional strategy as theirs. Her role focused on the delivery of a project in one area, while the comparators’ were responsible for nationwide functions and projects.

The judge said: “When we stand back and consider all of these factors, we are satisfied that there is clear water between the claimant’s role and the roles of her comparators. There are key differences in terms of the overall budget, accountability, and importance to the business. It cannot in our view be argued that those difference are anything other than of practical importance in relation to the terms and conditions of employment. The key difference, which revolved around the importance of the areas of responsibility to the business, is fundamental.”

However, the tribunal is yet to consider whether the roles were of “equal value” to the company.  This hearing will take place at a later date.

It also dismissed her unfair dismissal claim. The judgment says: “We have found there was a redundancy situation and that redundancy was the sole or principle reason for the claimant’s dismissal. As regards the fairness of the procedure adopted, to include the consultation, we find that the procedure adopted by the respondent was one which was open to a reasonable employer. Dismissal was within the band of reasonable responses open to a reasonable employer.”

A TalkTalk spokesperson said: “We are very pleased the tribunal found no evidence of gender discrimination at TalkTalk and dismissed the claim of unfair dismissal. We are fully committed to treating all our employees fairly and there is no disparity in pay between genders.”

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