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It’s 2019, we have self-driving cars, 3D printers, virtual realities, artificial intelligence, we even have a drone delivery service for crying out loud. And yet, with all these advancements, why is it we still cannot seem to master the concept of gender parity in pay. Equal pay for equal work, it should be simple, but instead year on year the number of sex discrimination and equal pay claims brought to employment tribunals has increased. In fact, cases of this nature have increased by 69%. One such case is that of female banker Stacey Macken, who most recently won a gender discrimination case brought against her former employer, BNP Paribas.

There is a lot to be unpacked in this case. And so, starting back in 2012, Macken was head hunted by BNP Paribas and after some negotiation regarding salary, she began working for the French bank in 2013. Her starting salary was £120,000. A few months later, “comparator 1,” as he is referred to through the claim, was hired. Despite having the same job title and job description as Macken, his starting salary was £160,000. Over the next 5 years that same co-worker received £237,000 in bonuses, seven times more than the combined £33,000 offered to Macken. The issue of unequal pay was soon raised with Macken’s line manager, who dismissed the claim and even suggested she resign, commenting “I wonder if this is the right bank for you”. The complaint culminated in an internal investigation in 2014, which ultimately ruled against Macken, concluding they did not consider she was suffering from pay disparity as a result gender. Macken’s relationship with her line manager rapidly deteriorated thereafter, so much so that he began looking for her replacement on the basis that he no longer considered she was right for the job. She began receiving exceedingly negative and hostile performance reviews, dismissive “not now Stacey” comments, targeted “handover emails” following her return from annual leave and a witch’s hat was left on her desk as following an office Halloween party.

In response to the claims, it was argued that Macken was employed on a junior level and comparator 1 as a senior. It was maintained that Macken and comparator 1 were carrying out jobs at different seniority and therefore were not comparable. Comparator 1 undertook more responsibility and this therefore accounted for the difference in pay and also contributed to him receiving a bigger bonus. His senior position enabled him to work more autonomously and they argued he simply performed better. It was contended that Macken had become “unmanageable” and would not accept genuine feedback regarding her performance, which fostered wholly negative performance reviews and lower (in 2017 zero) bonuses.

You wouldn’t be wrong in thinking there doesn’t seem to be very much weight to their defence, which could arguably be summarised to “we believe she was just a person who was bad at her job and who also happened to be a woman.” Luckily, Judge Tayler was also pretty unconvinced by their defence and concluded there was “ample evidence to infer discrimination” on the part of the Respondent. In his 97 page judgement, he called the witch’s hat “an inherently sexist act” the handover emails “unnecessarily aggressive” and the 2014 grievance investigation “one-sided”. Whilst it is undeniably satisfying to read his judgement, when placed in the context of the global pay gap, which currently sits at 63%, the case begins to feel like a hollow victory. Moving at our current rate, it will take a further 62 years to close the gap completely. We therefore must not see this case as a “job done” but instead a stark reminder of how far we have to go before we see real and genuine change. In the meantime however, well done Stacey you did us proud.   

Blog by Natasha Goldman, Trainee Solicitor.

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