Samira Ahmed takes BBC to court over claim of unequal pay

Jim Waterson Media editor
Photograph: Stephen Chung/Alamy

One of the BBC’s most prominent female presenters is taking the broadcaster to an employment tribunal over claims she was paid less than male colleagues for doing equivalent work, in a landmark case against the corporation.

Samira Ahmed’s equal pay case against the BBC is expected to be the first of a number of claims from female staff members to make it to court, in what could be an embarrassing hearing for the corporation featuring a well-known journalist detailing claims against BBC management.

Court listings seen by the Guardian show that Ahmed’s case is due to be heard over three days from next Monday at an employment tribunal in central London, over an alleged “failure to provide equal pay for equal value work” under the Equal Pay Act.

Ahmed, who presents Newswatch on BBC One and BBC News and Radio 4’s Front Row, referred a request for comment to her lawyers, who declined to add further detail. The BBC declined to comment on the case.

Ahmed, a former Channel 4 News presenter, started her career at the BBC in the 1990s and has been a regular on the broadcaster in recent years. Newswatch holds the corporation to account for its editorial decisions, while her work on Front Row has made her a regular part of Radio 4’s arts coverage.

The BBC has faced a growing number of equal pay cases since the corporation was forced to start publishing the salaries of high-earning on-air presenters and reporters in 2017. This revealed the wide disparities between the salaries of many prominent journalists at the corporation, leaving the BBC to convince male presenters to take pay cuts while also trying to bump up the salaries of lesser-paid women at a time when the corporation is facing budget cuts.

Many women at the BBC have felt this and other measures designed to benefit all staff have not done enough to right historical wrongs that meant women were underpaid for many years. Until now, most have chosen to settle cases before they reach court.

The former BBC China editor Carrie Gracie quit after finding out she was paid less than equivalent male presenters, ultimately winning an apology and a payout from the corporation.

Last month, the Guardian revealed that the former BBC employee Caroline Barlow had been given a £130,000 settlement by the broadcaster after she discovered 15 men in equivalent roles in her division were paid more than her.

The former head of product in the corporation’s design and engineering division claimed the BBC was such a discriminatory and hostile workplace environment that her position had become untenable, leaving her little choice but to resign. The BBC denied Barlow’s allegations but in May it agreed to an out-of-court settlement on condition that she formally withdrew her claim. Her settlement included a “termination fee” as compensation for her loss of employment.

The corporation is the subject of an ongoing investigation by the Equality and Human Rights Commission over claims of historical pay inequality at the organisation between male and female staff.