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A British secretary has won a nine-year legal battle against the UK Government in a case that will have far-reaching consequences for thousands of women.

A secretary has won a nine-year legal battle against the Government in a case that will have far-reaching consequences for thousands of women.

Michelle Alabaster began legal proceedings after claiming that her former employer broke European sex discrimination law by underpaying her during maternity leave.

Spanning nearly a decade, the case passed from an employment tribunal to an appeal tribunal in Kent before being heard in the European Court of Justice and the Court of Appeal in London.

Yesterday, Mrs Alabaster was awarded £204.53 plus £65.86 interest in maternity back pay as the battle she had vigorously pursued “on principle” was finally resolved in her favour.

The outcome is poised to pave the way to enable thousands of working mothers to claim higher maternity pay. The ruling closes a loophole in the Equal Pay Act that requires women claiming unfair treatment at work due to her pregnancy to show a man in the same situation would have been treated differently.

Hugging her nine-year-old daughter, Ellie – with whom she was pregnant when she launched the action, Mrs Alabaster, 36, said: “Pregnancy is an expensive time for new mums and it is hard making ends meet. I am proud I have fought for what is right. Thousands of women will benefit from what I have done.”

It was in 1996 when Mrs Alabaster became pregnant with Ellie that she began her case against her employer, Woolwich Building Society, which is now owned by Barclays Bank. Mrs Alabaster, from Bexleyheath, Kent, had joined the company in 1987 as a secretary in the computer services department. Issues arose when Mrs Alabaster was awarded a pay rise six weeks before she was due to start her maternity leave in December 1995. She subsequently received maternity leave payments based on her previous salary.

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