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Former TalkTalk executive sues firm under the equal pay law

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TalkTalk director, 43, who led cyber security operation after £77m data breach scandal claims her £110,000 salary was 40% less than men doing similar job

  • Rebecca Burke, 43, of Yately, Hampshire, was paid a basic salary of £110,000 
  • She helped lead firm’s cyber security programme after high-profile data breach
  • Found three other programme directors had salaries up to 40% higher than hers
  • Scandal cost TalkTalk up to £77m in lost business affecting 150,000 customers
  • Firm ‘strongly refutes’ claims and says ‘we do not tolerate gender discrimination’

Former TalkTalk programme director Rebecca Burke is pictured today outside Central London Employment Tribunal where she is claiming unfair dismissal and unequal pay against the firm

Former TalkTalk programme director Rebecca Burke is pictured today outside Central London Employment Tribunal where she is claiming unfair dismissal and unequal pay against the firm

A former TalkTalk director who claimed she was paid 40 per cent less than her male colleagues has told an employment tribunal her dismissal was a ‘sham’.

Rebecca Burke, 43, of Yately, Hampshire, has brought the telecommunications giant to an employment tribunal claiming sex discrimination and unfair dismissal.

The former programme director said her £110,000 salary was 40 per cent below the pay of three of her male colleagues, Daniel Rynehart, Jonathan Ellison and Daniel Richardson, who had the same job titles and responsibilities.

A central London employment tribunal heard Mrs Burke was hired by TalkTalk in April 2015 to lead the £30 million pilot ‘Lightning’ project, to install broadband to tens of thousands of homes in York.

However, after a massive data breach of customers’ details that October, that saw the firm suffer £77million in lost business affecting 150,000 customers, she stepped in as the programme director for the TalkTalk’s Cyber Security Programme. 

Mrs Burke also said she was unfairly made redundant in May 2017, in a ‘predetermined’ decision when her team was restructured, which she argued was considered as early as that March.

The 43-year-old raised an equal pay complaint with TalkTalk three months later after details about her colleagues’ pay emerged during the redundancy appeal.

In her witness statement Mrs Burke said: ‘I believe that my redundancy was a sham.

‘It was clear to me that the work required… was being artificially and rigidly divided in order to contrive a reason for my redundancy.

‘I had not, previously to the redundancy process, appreciated that my colleagues were regarded as more senior and paid more than me.

‘It certainly did not reflect what I saw as the reality of the situation.’

Mrs Burke added her male colleagues had the same job titles and responsibilities across the four programmes.

The tribunal heard that when her team was restructured, Mrs Burke was not given the opportunity to apply for other roles at TalkTalk and said she felt bullied by the redundancy process.

Sheila Aly, representing Mrs Burke, told the tribunal: ‘When she was first told she wasn’t given that opportunity to give suggestions or input, her job was redundant.

‘She should have been notified.’

She said her three colleagues earned 50 per cent more in bonuses during her time at the company, and had the option to receive a bonus up to the value of their six-figure salaries.

Between 2018 and 2019, TalkTalk reported a mean pay gap of 19.1 per cent and a mean bonus gap of 30.7 per cent.

TalkTalk has an average gender pay gap of 14.6 per cent and an average bonus gap of 31.6 per cent, according to the firm's 2018 Gender Pay Report. Pictured: Its offices in London in 2017

TalkTalk has an average gender pay gap of 14.6 per cent and an average bonus gap of 31.6 per cent, according to the firm’s 2018 Gender Pay Report. Pictured: Its offices in London in 2017

Mrs Burke previously appeared before an employment tribunal in December 2018 which was later postponed.

She has been supported by a number of equal pay campaigners including former BBC China editor Carrie Gracie.

In a statement Ms Gracie said: ‘Rebecca has been through a long ordeal and I hope it’s nearly over. I believe all women owe a debt of gratitude to those who are determined enough to call out unequal pay and take their cases before a judge.’

The tribunal heard Mrs Burke was in a lower salary banding when compared with the three male colleagues who worked in different fields.

Court documents show Mrs Burke was entitled to a £29,263 bonus in her contract.

TalkTalk deny the claims and say the 40 per cent figure was in comparison to one colleague.

In court documents the firm argues all three men had different salaries in previous roles, different comparative experiences, skills and capabilities.

A TalkTalk spokesman said: ‘We strongly refute these claims and we do not tolerate gender discrimination of any sort, including with regards to pay.

‘This is an on-going case so we cannot comment any further, however we’re committed to treating all our employees fairly and we are confident there is no disparity in pay between genders.’ 

The tribunal heard how York was a flagship project for a fibre optic network TalkTalk hoped to then roll out across the UK.

Ms Burke was responsible for managing projects as well as achieving corporate objectives at Talk Talk alongside Daniel Rynehart, Jonathan Ellison and Daniel Richardson.

Ms Burke was set specific tasks, including achieving 80% customer satisfaction.

In 2015 the newly appointed’ Group Change Director, Tom Webber, explained they would be working in an ‘agile way to enable the quick deployment of resources into TalkTalk’s priority programme areas’.

Ms Burke said in her statement: ‘I did discuss some concerns that I had around the redeployment to shared services with Tom Webber at the time.

‘I was concerned that I would be moved from the Lightning Programme whilst it was waiting for funding, but I was told that the rationale for the shared services was so that project staff could be deployed between projects according to business priority.’

‘The programme was a success, reaching 3 million households despite competition from larger competitors, my outstanding leadership of this programme was placed onto TalkTalk’s Executive Incentive Scheme.’

In December 2015 Mr Webber recruited Ms Burke onto the Cyber Security Programme which she worked on alongside Lightning, taking up her evening and weekends.

Ms Burke said she had taken on this role without additional pay, except for a £5,000 discretionary bonus after an annual review with Mr Webber.

‘I have come to learn that particular team members spoke about me in very critical and offensive terms,’ Ms Burke said.

‘I was unaware of their views of me until I saw the respondent’s disclosure and certainly no such criticisms were ever shared with me during my appraisals or my 1-2-1 meetings.

‘In January 2017 (the) security programme was no longer considered TalkTalk’s highest priority, and therefore would no longer require a programme director to oversee its delivery.

‘In the proceeding months I worked to handover to Derek Cheng, the new Chief Security Officer and Scott Traynor who was a Change Manager (who sat below the Programme Directors in the structure) who had been awarded a temporary promotion to ‘Portfolio Manager’.

‘Tom announced the decision regarding Scott’s appointment and my continuing work in Lightning in an email on 16 January 2018.’

The email read: ‘Since we launched our Security priority last year, it has been supported by Rebecca Burke who very admirably stepped in to fill the role immediately after the Data Breach at the end of 2015.

‘Rebecca has been fundamentally involved in shaping the portfolio and supporting the early stages of its delivery as well as keeping the Lightning pilot in York running at the same time!’

Dido Harding (above) was chief executive of TalkTalk at the time of the data breach in 2015, a scandal which cost the firm up to £77million in lost business affecting 150,000 customers

Dido Harding (above) was chief executive of TalkTalk at the time of the data breach in 2015, a scandal which cost the firm up to £77million in lost business affecting 150,000 customers

Ms Burke was taken off the security project and returned to the Lightning project in York but described clashing with another staff member, John Rees, in March 2017.

‘In March 2017 difficulties arose again between me and John Rees.

‘My line manager at the time Richard Sinclair spoke to John about his disruptive behaviour. John was widely known in the organisation as being difficult and he also had a reputation for sexist attitudes towards women.

‘I believe that this was the reason why John clashed with me as much as he did.

‘I was not alone in my views. In the investigation notes to my grievance appeal I note that Tom Webber acknowledged that there may have been undertones of chauvinistic behaviour by John.

Ms Burke was made redundant not long after this.

‘I was told that the scope of the Lightning programme had been reduced, and a Programme Director was no longer necessary to run this programme,’ she said.

‘This was simply not true.

‘I was also told that until my redundancy was confirmed it was expected that I would work within the business as usual and agree my work priorities with Richard.

‘I felt that I was getting very mixed messages from this email.

‘On one hand it was clear from the email that confirming my redundancy was simply going to be a formality and that the outcome had been decided, however on the other hand I was to continue with business and planning my priorities as usual, despite being told that the need for my role no longer existed.’

On 23 May 2017 Ms Burke emailed Mark Lewis in HR asking why she had not been considered for one of several suitable roles, since other Programme Directors had been given other roles. 

Ms Burke’s voiced concerns about her surprise redundancy to Mr Webber on 22 June 2017.

‘At this meeting I was advised by Tom Webber that I was not pooled with the other programme directors as they were in a higher banding than me and had larger portfolios than me,’ she wrote.

‘I had understood that all the programme directors were on the same banding level. I asked that this was investigated further particularly as the other programme directors were all male.

‘This was the first time I became aware that I may be being treated differently in terms of my pay, benefits and grading as my male peers.

‘Two weeks before I was placed at risk of redundancy I was asked to hand over all the Future Cities work to Nick Dale and Phil Eayres.

‘The reason I was given by Tom was that Future Cities had been removed from the programmes scope.

‘It is clear from the Respondent’s annual reports that the work on Future Cities continued in earnest and has now led to the award of and an initial £250m investment to create a new Infrastructure Company to deliver the FTTP product to 3m homes.’

Ms Burke then voiced her grievances with TalkTalk at a redundancy appeal hearing on 29 June 2017 only to learn her appeal had been rejected three weeks later. 

TalkTalk has denied they discriminated against a female former director by revealing they paid a man less than her for doing a similar job. 

And the British company has denied sex discrimination claiming there is no glass ceiling at the company, citing a lower gender pay gap in comparison with other companies and that a woman, the CEO, is the highest paid person. 

Rebecca Burke, 43, has said she believes her £110,000 salary was underpaid in comparison to other programme directors at the telecommunications giant. 

At a central London employment tribunal, Ms Burke was being questioned on her time at the company in between 2015 and 2017. She also claims unfair dismissal. 

After she left the £30 million pilot Lightning project, a trial to install fibreoptic broadband to tens of thousands of homes in York, she was replaced by a junior programming manager Scott Traynor. 

It emerged the role had been rebranded after a majority of the budget had been outsourced to a subcontracting company. Claire McCann, representing TalkTalk, asked: ‘A male employee took over, named Scott Traynor, to complete the Lightning project. ‘Were you aware, even though he was in the same band, he was paid less than you?’ 

Ms Burke said she was unaware of this. In an email sent by Tom Webber, Group Change Director, he privately said to other senior managers: ‘The biggest chunk [of the Lightning project] is being delivered by a third party and doesn’t require programme management but strong management – which is not a change activity. 

‘If I look at the remaining activities, they don’t justify a resource at her level and as of such, I intend to remove the role from the structure and it will be managed by a more junior Programme Manager going forward. 

‘This unfortunately means she will no longer be required, we can look at alternate roles but if not successful, she will leave by reason of redundancy.’ 

But Ms Burke asserts her role was more aligned with three other male colleagues, who headed up projects surrounding consumers, mobile operations and technology respectively. 

She cited a grievance letter written in August 2017 in which she said: ‘It was certainly my understanding that the Programme Directors would be interchangeable on projects. 

‘We all had the same job title and accountabilities. I am aware of other instances in which Programme Directors, have been shifted from project to project. 

‘I had thought, because of the way the shared service structure was presented, and because of what (Group Change Director Tom Webber) had said about pay and grading, that we were all on the same or very similar levels of pay and grading. 

‘I was therefore very surprised to find out that I was paid not only at a lower rate than my male colleagues but at apparently a substantially lower salary and grading.’ 

Ms McCann said: ‘The delivery of the Lightning programme continued successfully without a senior programme director.’ 

Ms Burke responded: ‘I am unable to comment on what happened after I left the company.’ 

As part of her claim, which Ms Burke cites as part of her PhD in equal pay, she says TalkTalk had a pay gap of 19.1 per cent and a mean bonus gap of 30.7 per cent. 

Ms McCann for TalkTalk said: ‘If executive director enumeration was included in the analysis, that would have lowered the pay gap. Executive directors were not included in the analysis as they sit in a non-qualifying employing entity.  The addition of executive directors reduces the mean pay gap to 13.3%. 

‘It means there are women earning a lot of money at the company. Speaking historically, the pay gap would have been far wider if executive directors were included in the analysis. 

‘You were one of very few senior directors, one of 29 in the top 100 of the workforce. 29 per cent is the same as the overall women, as 33 per cent of the total workforce is female. 

‘Women are in fact represented well in the higher echelons. Historically there’s often a ceiling they might hit, the higher echelons there’s a disproportionate number of men, but that is not the picture that we see for TalkTalk. 

‘Instead of being one of few seniors, you were one of 29. Would you accept that TalkTalk is favourable compared to the rest of the technology sector?’ 

Ms McCann also said: ‘Despite the evident difficulties in the technology industry and girls doing STEM subjects which leads to these types of roles, TalkTalk is one of only six companies on the FTSE 250 that has a female CEO. They have also had two female CEOs in a row.’ 

Ms Burke responded: ‘Yes, I see TalkTalk is better than the average.’ The hearing at the Central London Employment Tribunal took place the day the Equal Pay Bill was published. Sponsored by Baroness Margaret Prosser and to be put forward to the House of Lords, the bill would demand companies be transparent on salaries in an attempt to close the gender pay gap. 

Former TalkTalk executive sues firm under the equal pay law

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