In a unanimous 40-page judgment published on Friday, an employment tribunal in London ruled that under the 2010 Equality Act, Ahmed’s work was “like” that of male counterpart Jeremy Vine, who presented a similar show.
During a hearing late last year, Ahmed argued it was not fair that she received £440 ($576) for hosting an episode viewer feedback show Newswatch, while at the same time, Vine took home £3,000 ($4,000) for recording an installment of the similarly-themed Points Of View.
The BBC argued during the tribunal that Newswatch is a news show on the “relatively niche” BBC News channel, while Points Of View is an “extremely well-known” entertainment show with a lighter tone, hosted over the years by a long line of well-paid, household name presenters.
But the ruling said that the tonal differences in the shows did not mean that the presenters’ work was “not broadly similar.” It added that the discrepancy in ratings for both shows does not have “any bearing on whether the two presenters did the same work.” The ruling said the BBC “has not shown that the difference in pay was because of a material factor which did not involve subjecting the claimant to sex discrimination.”
Ahmed argued as part of her case that she was entitled to around £700,000 ($900,000) in lost earnings, but no ruling was made on this. The BBC and Ahmed could now resolve the issue of lost earnings privately or it could be the subject of further legal wrangling.
It is a hugely embarrassing moment for the BBC and leaves it vulnerable to a slew of other equal pay legal battles. The broadcaster said in evidence to the tribunal that it has 70 unresolved equal pay disputes, although The Guardian reported this month that it has approached women about reaching settlements.
The case may set a new precedent over the way BBC pays its news and entertainment presenters, while also potentially having significant consequences for other broadcasters. For decades, TV hosts are remunerated based on their star power, but the Ahmed ruling suggests that presenters should be considered equals for doing similar work, regardless of their experience.
In doing so, it highlighted issues with the way the BBC sets pay. “The BBC found itself in difficulties in this case because it did not (and, to an extent, still does not) have a transparent and consistent process for evaluating and determining pay for its on-air talent,” the ruling said.
The BBC said it was committed to “equality and equal pay” and that “the case was never about one person, but the way different types of programs across the media industry attract different levels of pay.”
It explained: “We have always believed that the pay of Samira and Jeremy Vine was not determined by their gender. Presenters — female as well as male — had always been paid more on Points of View than Newswatch.
“We’re sorry the tribunal didn’t think the BBC provided enough evidence about specific decisions — we weren’t able to call people who made decisions as far back as 2008 and have long since left the BBC.
“In the past, our pay framework was not transparent and fair enough, and we have made significant changes to address that; we’re glad this satisfied the tribunal that there was sufficient evidence to explain her pay now.”
Responding to the decision, Ahmed said: “No woman wants to have to take action against their own employer. I love working for the BBC. I’m glad it’s been resolved… I’m now looking forward to continuing to do my job, to report on stories and not being one.” The BBC said Ahmed is an “excellent journalist and presenter” and it wants to work with her to “move on in a positive way.”