Clare Balding could be in a position to sue the BBC for paying her £1.7 million less than Gary Lineker, lawyers suggested yesterday after the corporation revealed a significant gender pay gap for top presenters.
Senior BBC executives should brace themselves for a raft of sex discrimination claims from aggrieved women staff who will claim the corporation pays men more for similar work, it was forecast yesterday. Employment law specialists made the prediction after the broadcaster published salary details for all staff earning more than £150,000 annually. Two-thirds of the 96 presenters and journalists listed as earning more than that figure were men.
“If female stars in this list see male colleagues doing a similar job being paid considerably more than them they might well be motivated to pursue a claim,” Alex Bearman, a partner at London law firm Russell-Cooke, said. “The BBC will need to consider carefully how any such disparities can be justified.”
Lawyers pointed out that ministers had pushed the BBC into a position where litigation was likely. They said that the government could have allowed BBC bosses simply to publish gender pay gap figures without naming individuals. However, ministers chose instead to have a roll-call of top earners, which enables individuals to easily identify colleagues doing similar work for more money.
“The BBC will no doubt be preparing its material factor defences,” said Emma Bartlett, a partner at London law firm Charles Russell Speechlys. That defence is available to employers who can show that the pay difference is not the result purely of gender.
However, Bartlett said, “there has to be a real risk that any such material factor defence may in any event be tainted by discrimination, particularly if market forces are relied on to explain any pay disparity. Given the industry in which presenters operate has traditionally been favourable to men, it could simply perpetuate gender discrimination.”
Lawyers pointed to the dramatic difference between the salaries of the former footballer Gary Lineker, who presents Match of the Day, and Clare Balding, who presents a variety of programmes including the BBC’s Wimbledon tennis coverage this year. Lineker was revealed to be earning £1.9 million compared with Balding’s £199,000.
Karen Jackson, the managing director at London law firm Didlaw, said: “There is obviously a gender pay discrepancy. Clare Balding would certainly have a case. Unless the BBC can show there is a substantial and legitimate reason for the discrepancy.”
Jackson said that she had “no doubt that the BBC’s legal advisers are already scrambling to gather evidence as to why the work is not equal. It’s obvious that this cannot be fair but showing that it is unlawful is very complex”.