Next accused of destroying documents in equal pay claim

Next has been accused of destroying vital documents related to an equal pay claim worth up to £200m being brought by store staff.

Law firm Leigh Day, which is acting for 330 shop workers, says destruction of the paperwork is a breach of an employment tribunal order instructing Next to keep it safe.

A tribunal hearing set for 12 January will decide what happened to the documents and if Next should face any penalty. Leigh Day says the retailer could face a “strike-out order” under which it would lose the right to defend itself against any equal pay claims.

Elizabeth George, a barrister in the employment team at Leigh Day, said it was “fundamental to a fair hearing of this case” that neither side destroy documents they knew, or should have known, were highly relevant to the other’s case.

The group of Next shop workers, who are mostly women, argue their work is no less demanding than that of their male colleagues in the warehouses who, on average, earn between £2 and £6 more per hour.

Next employs 25,000 store staff across 500 stores in the UK and Ireland. If all eligible staff joined the claim, the potential cost could be £200m.

One shop worker who has been employed by Next for more than 10 years said: “When I was told exactly how much higher the warehouse pay was, I was shocked and angry and felt extremely undervalued.

“To find out now that Next may have destroyed important documents is yet another blow. I feel angry and betrayed and have now lost all respect for the company.”

Next said it had not destroyed documents in breach of a tribunal order.

“Next is therefore confident that any application for a ‘strike-out order’ will not succeed, as it is meeting all of its obligations under the tribunal process,” a spokesman for the company said. “Next will continue to defend itself vigorously in this claim.”

Next store staff recently became the latest employees to join a series of similar equal pay cases which also involve thousands of workers from Asda, Sainsbury’s, Morrisons, Tesco and the Co-op.

The cases could result in payouts of billions of pounds from retailers if the shop workers are successful.

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