24/10/2012 10:00 BST | Updated 24/10/2012 15:19 BST

Equal Pay Victory Could Have 'Huge Implications' For Women Beyond Birmingham City Council

On Tuesday morning 174 women and the highest court in Britain took us into "unknown territory."

The Supreme Court's ruling that former employees of Birmingham City Council can bring damages over equal pay claims through a civil case, despite missing an initial deadline to take it to an employment tribunal could help thousands more women.

Lara Kennedy, a paralegal at Leigh Day & Co, the firm that brought the case, explained the outcome effectively "extends the deadline" for those who want to bring a case against their former employers over equal pay from six months to six years.

"The Supreme Court outcome today is a landmark. It's going to extend the limitation period so much that people are going to realise they could be entitled to thousands and thousands of pounds. The repercussions are going to be massive," she told The Huffington Post UK.

"It will have such huge implications for many thousands of people now and it will go beyond the public sector and into the private sector. This is going to be far reaching."

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The difference between male and female pay at the council, as detailed by law firm Leigh Day & Co

The case originates from 2005 when women and men working at Birmingham City Council doing similar jobs were paid widely differing amounts. The women, who were working in industries such as cooking, cleaning and caring, were denied bonuses similar to those handed out to employees in traditionally male-dominated jobs such as refuse collectors, street cleaners, road workers and grave diggers.

Patrick Woodman, policy and research manager at the Chartered Management Institute, said the difference in pay between men and women working at Birmingham City Councils but doing similar roles was "alarming."

"I think that's one of the most alarming things about this case - the fact that we're not talking about enormously historic examples, it's relatively recent," he told The Huffington Post UK.

"I think the ruling really takes us into unknown territory and where it takes us in the longer term it remains to be seen.

"The fact is that it is still fundamentally recent, modern working practices and that means that employers have to change."

According to research from the CMI, women continue to be paid less than men in roles throughout the workplace.

"Our concern would be there are other examples out there," he said. "The immediate implications will be for other local government employees.

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The case means people denied equal pay will have longer to make a claim against a former employer

"It's a clear signal to employers that if they hadn't already got the message they need to make sure that they're paying their staff fairly."

Vivienne Hayes, the Chief Executive at Women’s Resource Centre, told The Huffington Post UK the case demonstrated that jobs seen as "female work" such as cleaners and care workers were "consistently low paid and undervalued."

"That these women were denied the bonuses given to their male counterparts is indicative of historical evidence which shows that any specific sector that is mostly populated by women is not only very low paid, but that those men who do work in those sectors actually earn more on average than the women who constitute the majority," she said.

"We need a shift across society which moves away from the Victorian-esque view that ‘men’s work’ is more valuable than ‘women’s work’; this ruling sets an excellent precedent towards achieving this."

SEE ALSO: Equal Pay Victory For Women As Supreme Court Rules In Favour Of Action Against Birmingham City Council