The Supreme Court verdict, upholding previous rulings, was in their favour after all. It effectively agreed that the roles of shop floor workers, mostly women, can be compared to those of depot workers, mostly men.
But this is only the beginning of an intricate battle.
The store workers, represented by Leigh Day, will need to argue that their jobs are of equal value to those in the distribution depots before they get any money.
“One of the reasons Asda has probably been fighting all the way to the Supreme Court is because these kinds of cases are notoriously drawn out,” says Stefan Martin, a partner at law firm Hogan Lovells.
“Amazingly, this is only a preliminary issue. This is not going to be decided for another number of years.”
Other firms will be watching future developments closely. The ruling has the potential to open the floodgates to further claims.
£8bn court battle
The private sector initially appeared to have dodged the equal pay claims bullet that cost councils, most notably Birmingham and Glasgow, billions of pounds.
They agreed settlements with female staff including care workers and school cooks who were paid less than men for work of equal value in recent years.
Leigh Day is already representing workers against Co-op, Tesco, Sainsbury’s and Morrisons as well as fashion firm Next, although their cases are at a much earlier stage. If the grocers lose, the compensation could leave an estimated £8bn hole in their finances.
Martin says: “To make it worthwhile for lawyers you need to find places in sectors where there are large numbers of people, and supermarkets were an obvious place because of the way they are set up with large numbers of shops and distribution centres.”
He believes it could spread to retail more broadly, especially as firms move towards internet orders and open more warehouses.