THREE North-East councils could be ordered to pay out millions of pounds after a tribunal ruled they had discriminated against male workers.

At Middlesbrough Council, there are up to 120 claims, with the final bill being estimated in the region of £5m.

Hartlepool Borough Council is not as severely affected, but could be paying £500,000 to ten men who filed complaints against the authority.

The Employment Appeal Tribunal ruling also affects South Tyneside Borough Council.

The men, who work in jobs including care assistants, caretakers, driver-carers and leisure attendants, lodged discrimination claims about bonuses paid to male workers in better-paid jobs such as gardeners and refuse collectors.

This was at the same time as women in low-paid jobs were also claiming that the bonuses were discriminatory, the tribunal was told.

While the women’s case succeeded and they were offered financial settlements, the men were not. This left them in a worse financial situation than the women, as well as the better-paid men.

Solicitor Stefan Cross, who represented the men, said he was pleased at the outcome.

He said: “One of the things which makes you angry is that the men were working alongside women who received compensation years ago.

“There are relatively few of them, and the councils are spending fortunes fighting this for budget reasons.”

He added: “Refusing to pay men the same wages as women on the same grade is just as bad as failing to pay the women in the first place.

“It just replaces discrimination against the women with discrimination against men.

We believe both are wrong.

“This is a massive victory for the men who have fought long and hard to receive what they are entitled to.”

Middlesbrough Council is studying the judgement and a spokesman said: “As there is a possibility of an appeal being considered, it would be inappropriate to comment further.”

A spokesman for Hartlepool Council said: “We are obviously disappointed with the decision and we are considering our response.”

A spokesman for South Tyneside Council confirmed the authority had asked for leave to appeal against the decision.