Ex-Apprentice Stella English loses her Employment Tribunal claim against Lord Sugar

In a written judgment today, the east London tribunal said: ‘There was no dismissal of the claimant – the claimant resigned. ‘Therefore the complaint of unfair constructive dismissal contrary to section 95 Employment Rights Act 1996 fails and is dismissed.’

In her case Ms English claimed she was treated as an ‘overpaid lackey’ after being handed a £100,000 contract for winning series six of the BBC1 show in 2010.

Lord Sugar described the decision as ‘a victory for the law against the claim culture’ in a Tweet after the verdict was published.The entrepreneur and peer accused Ms English of attempting to ‘blackmail’ him when he gave evidence to the tribunal, saying he had no case to answer and that Ms English was after his money.

The Apprentice winner resigned from her job with Lord Sugar’s IT division Viglen in May 2011 claiming the job was ‘a sham’ and a ‘PR construct’.

The formal investment banker said she then felt pressurised into taking up a new position at Lord Sugar’s internet set-top box company You View.

Lord Sugar said he was trying to help her out as she had complained of being ‘desperate for money’ however Ms English claimed to the tribunal that during an unscheduled meeting on September 28 2011, Lord Sugar told her he would not be renewing her contract and he told her he did not ‘give a shit’.

But rather than his comment being aimed at Ms English, Lord Sugar meant he was expressing his disregard at how the matter might play out in the media.

He told the tribunal he was being paid back for his kindness by ‘having to come here and humiliate myself in front of the national media’, adding: ‘I’m here because I have principles and I’m not just going to pay off people.

‘When her instructing solicitor heard my name, it must have been “Ding, ding, ding – jackpot”.’

Lord Sugar admitted it made him ‘very angry’ to have ‘derisory actions’ brought against him by Ms English, describing it as ‘tantamount to blackmail’.

During giving evidence at the east London employment tribunal he said: ‘I’m here because I believe I have no case to answer and because I trust in the tribunal system and I’m here because I believe this is a classic abuse of the tribunal system.’

He accused his former apprentice of being a ‘serial liar’ during the tribunal and said that, with hindsight, he would have neither hired her nor offered her a second position when she initially resigned.

In a statement, Lord Sugar said the case brought by Ms English was a ‘charade’ and he vowed to put an end to the so-called claim culture.
He went onto say: ‘I am pleased that the tribunal has returned this verdict and feel vindicated in the judgment that myself, my companies, the BBC, the TV production company and my staff acted properly throughout Ms. English’s employment.

‘There was never a case for us to answer but her need for money and fame meant that the whole system was subjected to this charade.

‘I have been cleared of a derisory attempt to smear my name and extract money from me. The allegations were without substance, and I believe this case was brought with one intention in mind – the presumption that I would not attend the tribunal, that I would not testify and that I would settle out of court, sending Ms English on her way with a tidy settlement.

‘I’m afraid she underestimated me and her reputation is now in tatters. I have principles and I am not going to be forced to compromise them, no matter how much time and money they might cost me.

‘This case was a sham and a total abuse of a tribunal system, which is there to protect employees who have been mistreated. It is not there to aid those chancing their arm at landing a big payday. I hope that other companies will learn from this example and also fight off derisory claims.

‘What has happened here is representative of a new wave of claim culture where some employees file spurious actions regardless of whose reputation it may smear in the process.

‘I have spoken about this subject in the House of Lords and will continue to campaign to put an end to this practice, which has developed in recent years and is seemingly spiralling out of control. This has to be stopped.’

Commenting on the tribunal outcome Martin Pratt, Associate in the employment team at law firm Lester Aldridge LLP said: “It is unsurprising that Ms English lost her case. From press reports of the case it appears that her major complaints were that while working for Lord Sugar she was given no work and that her job, effectively, did not exist. In most circumstances, however, there is no general obligation on an employer to provide the employee with something to do, and by her own evidence she seems to have effectively admitted to the tribunal that her role was redundant.

On that basis the tribunal was unlikely to find that her contract had been breached and that she was thus entitled to resign and claim constructive dismissal. Even if they had, it is quite possible that her damages would have been minimal on the grounds that she was immediately offered another job by Lord Sugar after her resignation and, even if she hadn’t taken the new role, she would have been made redundant within a short period of time anyway. All in all it looks like she had a pretty poor case.”