A court hearing scheduled for Jan. 12 will decide what happened to the documents and whether Next faces a penalty. Leigh Day says the retailer could face a “write-off order” under which it would lose the right to defend against any claim for equal pay.
Elizabeth George, a lawyer for Leigh Day’s employment team, said it was “Fundamental to a fair hearing of this case” that neither party destroys documents that they knew, or should have known, were highly relevant to the other’s case.
Next Shop’s group of workers, who are mostly women, say their jobs are no less demanding than their male colleagues in the warehouses who, on average, earn between £ 2 and £ 6 more per hour.
Next employs 25,000 people in 500 stores in the UK and Ireland. If all eligible staff members join the claim, the potential cost could be £ 200million.
A warehouse worker who has been employed by Next for over 10 years said: “When I was told exactly how much the warehouse salary was higher, I was shocked and angry and felt extremely undervalued.
“Now finding out that Next may have destroyed important documents is another blow. I feel angry and betrayed and have now lost all respect for the company.
Next said he did not destroy any documents in violation of a court order.
“Next is therefore convinced that any ‘delisting’ request will not succeed, as it fulfills all of its obligations under the legal process,” said a spokesperson for the company. “Next will continue to defend itself vigorously in this claim.”
Staff at the following store recently became the latest employee to join a string of similar pay equalization cases that also involve thousands of workers from Asda, Sainsbury’s, Morrisons, Tesco and the cooperative.
The cases could result in payments of billions of pounds from retailers if store employees are successful.