Thousands of supermarket employees are taking their employer to a tribunal over issues of equal pay.
Asda failed to block the claim brought by 7,000 staff which, if successful, could have massive repercussions for its 150,000 employees and other workers in the retail industry.
The mainly female group bringing the claim work in jobs paid by the hour in Asda supermarkets and want the same level of pay as those in the distribution depots, who are overwhelmingly male and receive substantially more money.
The news comes just after Asda-Walmart ended a long-running dispute with staff over the closure of its Marus Bridge depot, though it is not yet clear if any Wigan employees are in the tribunal group.
Asda says there is no discrimination and the claim should fail but also wanted the tribunal to halt proceedings, which would have left staff to battle the supermarket in the High Court if they wished to continue the claim.
But the tribunal said it had no power to impose a stay and it would be inappropriate to do so if it could.
Asda’s challenge in the Court of Appeal has now also failed after two judges ruled against the chain. Lord Justice Elias said Parliament had recognised that sometimes employment tribunals might be a better place to determine equal pay cases than the High Court but had made no such rulings the other way around.
He also said very few High Court judges had experience in this field while the employment tribunal had a number of judges with considerable expertise in the area.
The supermarket said the ruling in no way cast any judgement on whether the claimants were right to pursue the case or not and strongly denied any wrongdoing.
An Asda spokesman said: “The ruling from the Court of Appeal relates solely to the way the case will proceed in the courts. It has nothing to do with the merits of the case itself.
“While we respect the court’s decision, we continue to strongly dispute the claims being made against us in the employment tribunal.
“This is a legal case about different rates of pay for different jobs. We believe that jobs in question are very different in terms of their demands, and we strongly dispute the claims being made.
“At Asda people doing the same job are paid the same. Men and women doing the same job in our retail stores are paid the same. Men and women doing the same job in our distribution and logistics centre are paid the same. Pay rates in stores and depots differ for legitimate reasons, including the different market rates for different jobs.”
A long-running industrial dispute involving Asda-Walmart and staff at the now-closed Wheatlea depot recently came to an end with 13 staff receiving redundancy packages.
Throughout the campaign employees accused supermarket bosses of heavy-handed tactics to move them to a new centre in Warrington and Wigan MP Lisa Nandy also spoke out to express concern.