LONDON Britain's no.3 supermarket chain Asda could be forced to pay out millions of pounds to workers after a group of employees were given the go-ahead to proceed with a claim against the chain, which is owned by Walmart (WMT.N).
An employment judge ruled on Friday that over 7,000 mostly female Asda store workers can compare themselves to higher-paid mostly male colleagues who work in distribution centres, allowing their equal pay claim to proceed through legal channels.
Asda said it maintained its position that the jobs were not comparable, and that it was considering appealing against the ruling.
"We continue to strongly dispute the claims being made against us," it said in a statement. "We believe that the demands of the jobs are very different and are considering our options for appeal."
The equal pay case comes as a blow to Asda as it seeks to reverse a dramatic slump in sales, having lagged its peers for two years and lost market share.
Law firm Leigh Day, representing the claimants, said in a statement that Asda could owe workers over 100 million pounds in wages going back to 2002 should the case be found in the claimants' favour.
It added that the ruling was encouraging for other claims it is bringing on behalf of a group of 400 workers from another British supermarket, Sainsbury's (SBRY.L).
(Reporting by Sarah Young; editing by Stephen Addison)