Former TalkTalk executive takes on firm in gender pay dispute

An attempt by a former senior executive at TalkTalk to take the telecoms company to tribunal over claims of unfair dismissal and unequal pay has been backed by Carrie Gracie of the BBC and Sam Walker, formerly of the Co-operative Group.

Rebecca Burke led TalkTalk’s cybersecurity programme after the 2015 hacking scandal that cost the company £77m. She was made redundant 15 months later and claims she subsequently found that her four male colleagues in the same role were paid up to 40% more in salary and 50% more in bonuses.

Burke aims to raise £40,000 on the Crowdjustice platform so she can pay her legal fees and has pledged to give any settlement to the women’s rights charities the Fawcett Society and Time’s Up UK if she wins. Her campaign is being supported by Gracie, who resigned as the BBC’s China editor over unequal pay, and Walker, who won an equal pay claim against the Co-operative Group.

Burke took TalkTalk to tribunal last December but the case was postponed after her barrister, Naomi Cunningham, asked the tribunal panel to stand down on the grounds that it was hostile to her client’s case.

Cunningham told the tribunal: “No claimant in an equal pay case listening to the exchanges could be expected to feel any confidence that any part of her claim would get a fair hearing.”

The judge, Graeme Hodgson, took several days to consider the request before declining to step down, by which point there was no more time for the case to be heard. The tribunal was rescheduled for 27 January 2020, but it can only proceed if Burke raises the funds.

Burke, who funded the first tribunal herself, said: “Getting this far has cost me enormously, emotionally and financially, but as a result I am totally committed to getting justice, raising money for a vital cause, and drawing attention to the plight of other women in similar situations.”

If the fundraising target is not reached then all funds will be returned to those who donated them.

In a statement in support of Burke’s case, Gracie said it took “the courage of silence breakers” to draw attention to pay discrimination. “Without cases like this, the public is none the wiser,” she said. “An immense sacrifice by one woman to alert others to the risk.”

Walker said women often could not afford the financial or mental toll of bringing an equal pay case against their employer and ended up signing non-disclosure agreements and settling out of court for sums far less than they had lost in the ‘back pay’ owed.

“There needs to be legal reform and reform within financial reporting mechanisms to reveal the extent of equality ‘payoffs’ that are happening all the time,” she said.

TalkTalk has been approached for comment. In a statement issued at the time of the first tribunal hearing, the company said: “We strongly refute these claims and we do not tolerate gender discrimination of any sort, including with regards to pay.

“This is an ongoing case so we cannot comment any further, however we’re committed to treating all our employees fairly and we are confident there is no disparity in pay between men and women.”