Hundreds more pay equality compensation claims could now be brought before the courts following a ruling won by women who worked for a local council.
The Court of Appeal declared that 174 cooks, cleaners, catering and care staff previously employed by Birmingham City Council are entitled to launch their claims in the High Court.
The women are time-barred from taking their cases to the Employment Tribunal and the "landmark" ruling gives them new hope of obtaining compensation, say lawyers.
A city council spokesman said: "We are disappointed by the judgment and are currently considering our next step, which could include an appeal (to the Supreme Court)."
All 174 women were among female workers denied bonuses similar to those handed out to employees in traditionally male-dominated jobs such as refuse collectors, street cleaners, road workers and gravediggers.
The court heard that, in 2007 and 2008, tens of thousands of pounds were paid to female council employees to compensate them. More payments have also been made this year to women who went to the Employment Tribunal.
However, only workers who are still employed or have only recently left their employment are eligible to go to the tribunal. Those who have left their jobs more than six months earlier are caught by a strict six-month deadline for launching claims.
To get round the deadline, the 174 started actions for damages in the High Court, which has a far more generous six-year deadline for launching claims.
The city council attempted to have the claims struck out, arguing that under equal pay legislation such claims could only be entertained by the Employment Tribunal. If the council had been right, the women workers would have had no hope of bringing successful claims because of the tribunal time limits.
However, Lord Justice Mummery, Lord Justice Davis and Dame Janet Smith ruled the council was wrong in law and unanimously dismissed the council's appeal against a deputy High Court judge's ruling last December in favour of the women.
© 2011 Press Association