The case has a long way to go before it is concluded but if it does not go Asda's way they could be left with a huge bill, ITV News Deputy Political Editor Anushka Asthana reports
An email leaked to ITV News suggests that almost 55,000 shopfloor workers involved in a major equal pay battle with Asda may have had a significant boost to their case.
The message, sent to all claimants by their legal team at Leigh Day, suggests an independent expert has compared the jobs of mainly women working on the shop floor to their predominantly male colleagues in distribution centres - scoring them across 11 factors including knowledge and responsibility.
The email claims that the shopfloor roles included in the study scored slightly higher on average, with 453 points, than those in the distribution centre, on 447.
So why are the male roles paid between £1.50 and £3 more an hour?
That is the question Asda will have to answer if equal value is shown when the case comes to tribunal next year.
If they lose, they face a potentially huge compensation bill in a case that has major implications for the entire supermarket sector and retail more widely.
The GMB union - which represents many of the women - said they couldn't comment on a leaked email.
But they did claim that if Asda lose they could be looking at £1.2bn in historic payouts as well as an increased pay bill of up to £400 million each year.
Nadine Houghton, GMB National Officer said: "The entire retail sector has been built on the structural discrimination of women. Women's labour has been significantly undervalued and it's about time that society wakes up."
The independent report is not a final decision - by any means- but was commissioned by the court and experts tell us - is likely to be taken very seriously by the judge.
Asda claimed the report was part of a complex case and was confidential. Sources suggested that average scores across 11 different skills were not how the jobs would be compared.
"It is not a ruling by the Employment Tribunal and is not a decision on the question of equal value. At Asda male and female colleagues doing the same jobs in stores are paid the same and this is equally true in our distribution centres,” a spokesperson said.
"We continue to defend these claims because retail and distribution are very different sectors, with their own distinct skill sets and rates of pay."
But the leak suggests the claimants' legal team believe the report leans heavily in their favour.
We spoke to two women who are part of this legal battle with Asda.
Jackie Sloan, who lives near Poole, said: "When equal pay went through it was 1975, I was 15. Here I am, 63 years old and I’m still not getting equal pay, I’m still getting treated like a second-class citizen. I’m still having to fight for my right as a woman, and that’s not fair."
When Michelle Hunt, from North Yorkshire, found out about the pay difference she felt "anger and frustration. "
She said: "Because, as a female why should my work value be any less than my male counterparts? I can’t even afford to shop at the place I work. I have to go to budget retailers and shop there."
Charlotte Rees-John, Employment Lawyer, Irwin Mitchell said: "I really think this is the tip of the iceberg, there's a lot of claims against other supermarkets already out there so they will be watching this really carefully but I think this goes beyond supermarkets as well because the ramifications could impact all sorts of sectors and all sorts of businesses in the private sector."
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