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Ex-TalkTalk infosec exec's equal pay and unfair dismissal claims tossed out at tribunal

Job role was scaled back after 2015 hack, rules employment judge

A former Talktalk infosec exec has lost her unfair dismissal and equal pay claims against the UK telco after an employment tribunal rejected her case.

Rebecca Burke's attempt to claim that she was underpaid compared to her colleagues failed after the London Central Employment Tribunal ruled that she did different work to them.

"We are satisfied that there is clear water between the claimant's role and the roles of her comparators. There are key differences in terms of the overall budget, accountability, and importance to the business," ruled Employment Judge Graeme Hodgson, as reported by London news agency Court News UK.

Burke, of Yateley, Hampshire, was paid a basic salary of £110,000 for her prominent role in TalkTalk's cybersecurity operations in the lead up to, and after, the infamous 2015 hack that saw four million customers' data taken by criminals.

The hack cost TalkTalk around 150,000 customers and £60m in business as Britons shied away from the ISP.

Having been made redundant in 2017, Burke discovered she was paid less in both salary and bonus terms than male colleagues doing roughly similar jobs to hers. Yet TalkTalk successfully argued to tribunal judges that Burke's role had been downsized after the hack, justifying her being on less pay than her former colleagues.

Charles Bligh, TalkTalk's COO until December 2018, who worked with her for two years before her redundancy, explained that Burke's job and that of those to whom she was comparing her role were "vastly different" and "not comparable in any way", while praising her for being "very, very capable."

He told the tribunal: "With the complexity of those new programmes, the detail that we would need, stakeholder management and the leadership qualities, I would not have put her in charge of those programmes. I just don't see her as senior enough to run those programmes."

Burke was previously in charge of a £20m project to roll out fibre-optic broadband in the city of York.

Judge Hodgson, chairman of the tribunal panel, agreed, ruling: "We reject the allegation that dismissal was unfair."

Burke's attempt to crowdfund £30,000 to cover legal fees ended abortively in November 2019, having failed to reach its target within 30 days.

Speaking to Court News UK, Burke said: "I'm shocked and disappointed by this judgment, and I know that those familiar with my case will feel the same. I'll be consulting with advisers, family and friends before taking any decisions on what comes next. I'd like to thank everyone on my team for their rock solid support over the last two years."

A TalkTalk spokesperson said: "We are very pleased the Tribunal found no evidence of gender discrimination at TalkTalk and dismissed the claim of unfair dismissal. We are fully committed to treating all our employees fairly and there is no disparity in pay between genders." ®

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