Pickstone v Freemans plc [1989] AC 66

Established the purpose principle of statutory interpretation, whereby Courts interpret domestic legislation so as to give force to EU law.

Facts

The claimant, Ms Pickstone, was an employee of the defendants, Freemans, where she worked as a warehouse operative and received a salary equivalent to that of her male counterparts performing the same job. However, the warehouse checkers, who were male, benefit from a greater salary than the warehouse operatives, receiving £1.22 per week more. Ms Pickstone subsequently alleged that the defendants were in breach of the Equal Pay Act 1970

Issues

Whether an employer is in breach of equal pay legislation where it has different pay rates for workers completing work of the same value who are of different genders.

Held

The Court of Appeal determined that Freemans was not in breach however this was overturned upon appeal by the House of Lords who found for Ms Pickstone, and deemed that Freemans was in breach of equal pay legislation. Whilst a literal reading of British legislation would have meant that Freemans was not breaching equal pay rights as the warehouse operatives and warehouse checkers were performing different jobs, this result would mean that Britain was in result of its obligations arising from European treaties to give force to a directive to legislate and protect equal pay. Subsequently, the Lords adopted a purposive approach to statutory interpretation, permitting Ms Pickstone’s claim on the grounds that she was being paid less than male workers completing work of equal value, despite that the work per se was not the same.

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