ISN’T it strange the lengths some employers will go to in order to continue discriminating against their staff?

Take ASDA. Just last week the supermarket giant, which is being pursued by thousands of mainly female staff in a mammoth equal-pay claim, vowed to battle all the way to the Supreme Court after losing the latest round in the long-running dispute. The retailer had gone to the Court of Appeal in a bid to overturn an Employment Appeal Tribunal decision that said female shop staff could compare their jobs with the higher-paid roles filled by warehouse-based men to further their claim. Yet despite three appeal court judges upholding the earlier finding and refusing to give permission for ASDA to take the case further, the retailer has said it will apply directly to the Supreme Court in a bid to put the case to bed once and for all.

With the cost of settling the hundreds of thousands of claims lodged against ASDA and fellow retailers Tesco, Sainsbury’s and Morrisons reckoned to be in the region of £10 billion, you can see why it is being so dogged. And, while ASDA freely admits paying store staff differently to distribution centre staff “because the demands of the jobs are very different”, the fact that within stores and within depots men and women are paid the same would suggest it might have a point. After all, if, as ASDA says, its stores and warehouses “operate in different market sectors” and it pays its staff “market rates in those sectors regardless of gender”, surely the case is cut and dry.

The problem is we’ve been here before, with more than one Scottish local authority being forced to back down after trying to argue exactly the same thing. Glasgow City Council previously tried to kill off the case against it by arguing that female catering, cleaning and caring staff could not compare themselves to binmen and janitors because the former were employed by its wholly owned arms-length organisation Cordia while only the latter were the direct responsibility of the council itself. It was not successful, with the Court of Session finding against it in 2014. That ruling said that even though Cordia had its own distinct employment terms the council was the ultimate source of that employment. The women’s jobs were compared with the more-lucrative men’s as a result and, lo and behold, last month the council agreed to settle the hard-fought dispute for more than £500 million.

While the case came good for the women in the long run, the fact the council had bothered to argue the toss about comparators is more than a little surprising considering that the previous year the Supreme Court had ruled against Dumfries and Galloway Council on a similar issue. That case saw 251 classroom assistants, learning support staff and nursery nurses successfully argue that their positions should be deemed comparable with those of groundsmen, road workers and refuse drivers, setting a legal precedent in the process. That precedent – known as the North hypothetical – is what did for ASDA in the Court of Appeal. Given that the Dumfries and Galloway judgment was written by Lady Hale, who now presides over the Supreme Court, it would seem ASDA has almost certainly reached the end of this particular legal road.

Which can only be good news for the supermarket’s female staff, right? Well, not necessarily. You see even if the Supreme Court does refuse to hear ASDA’s final appeal – or if it hears it and, as would appear to be inevitable, dismisses it – the retailer’s female staff will be far from home and dry, with the agreement of comparators being just the beginning of a long and arduous process that could take several more years to reach a conclusion. Being able to compare shop staff to warehouse staff is one thing; working out if the roles they fill are of equal value and whether there is a good reason for them not to be paid equally is another thing entirely.

And, as has become obvious in the Glasgow case, making it to the final stage doesn’t wipe out discrimination in and of itself, with the awful by-product of righting past wrongs being that new inequalities are created in the process. Indeed, while Glasgow’s settlement will result in some women getting payouts in the region of £100,000, the disparity between what two people doing exactly the same job for exactly the same length of time will receive could be huge. As the law stipulates that claims can only be backdated for five years, the 750 women who filed in the week after the settlement was announced will receive significantly less than those who have been fighting the council ever since its pay scheme was put in place in 2007. Worse still, around 2,000 potentially eligible women who have never filed a claim will receive nothing.

Given the size of the settlement it is clear that lines have to be drawn somewhere, yet still the process would appear to be far from fair. But that’s the problem with discriminatory pay practices – they are so insidious they become nigh on impossible to fully iron out. No wonder ASDA – and all the other retailers that will be watching its case with bated breath – is trying its damnedest to make the whole thing just go away.