Her predecessor in the job, a heterosexual man, had been given a rail pass for his partner, although they were not married. Advocate-general at the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg Michael Elmer has now ruled that South West Trains breached European law governing equal pay. If the full court accepts his ruling, which it does in the majority of cases, companies could be forced to give same-sex partners the same rights as unmarried heterosexual partners.
Legal experts say the decision could have widespread implications for companies in areas including company car rights, as well as other benefits such as pensions and health insurance. Martin Hopkins, head of employment law in the Birmingham office of national law firm Eversheds, said: 'What the ruling says is that if an employer offers an employee's heterosexual but unmarried partner a benefit, such as driving a company car, then it is discriminatory not to offer the benefit to homosexual partners.'
Hopkins said companies might try to short-circuit that by looking at cutting benefits back to employees and spouses only. However, he pointed out that this could cause problems with existing employees and even lead to legal action by those who have had rights taken away. He advised fleets to consider their position before the final ruling, which is due to be made before the end of the year.