Lord Sugar yesterday vowed to take on claim culture as a “personal crusade” after former winner of The Apprentice Stella English lost her constructive dismissal case against him.
Ms English, 34, sued the Labour peer after resigning from the £100,000-a-year job that was her prize for winning series six of the BBC1 show in 2010. She told the East London Tribunal Service last month that she was treated like an “overpaid lackey”.
But in a written judgment, tribunal judge John Warren said: “This was a claim which should never have been brought.”
Lord Sugar said the case was “tantamount to blackmail”.
He said: “She picked the wrong person here and I do hope that, apart from it being a victory for me, that other business people will start to realise they shouldn’t succumb to this type of blackmail and they should fight it.”
“High-profile victims” like himself are at risk of further claims, he added, urging them to see the cases through rather than settle out of court, even though “it may not seem to make commercial sense”.
The Labour peer said he would speak to colleagues in the House of Lords when parliament sits again. “I’m going to take it on as a personal crusade,” he said. “The most important thing is asking how we deal with these derisory claims. How do you take on these people, and these ambulance-chasing lawyers?”
He described the tribunal system as a “brilliant thing”, but added: “It is designed to assist employees, but unfortunately all good things get abused and this is a classic case of abuse of the system.”
Ms English was given a role with Lord Sugar’s IT division Viglen after winning The Apprentice but resigned in May 2011 and complained her role there was that of an “overpaid lackey’”, something her former employer strongly denied. She also claimed the job was “a sham” and a “PR construct”.
The mother of two, from Whitstable, Kent, said she then felt pressurised into taking up a new position at Lord Sugar’s internet set-top box company YouView. Lord Sugar said he was simply trying to help her out as she had complained of being “desperate for money’’.
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 she then resigned.
However, the peer said there was no long-term position available at YouView following the end of her 12-month contract and that she had already made it clear she did not want to work at Viglen.
Mr Warren concluded that Ms English was “ill-advised” to continue with the case. His judgment stated: “We do not find that any of the conduct about which the claimant complains... was conduct which destroyed or seriously damaged trust and confidence entitling the claimant to terminate her employment and to claim unfair constructive dismissal.”
The judge also found that Ms English was given a “real job” at Viglen.
He added: “The respondent (Lord Sugar) had gone out of their way to ensure the claimant was placed in a role at YouView from which she could learn new skills, a job which she agreed to and which she enjoyed doing and she acknowledged she liked the work.”
Mr Warren’s judgment 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 the tribunal panel’s view, it was made “abundantly clear” to Ms English that she would not be working directly under Lord Sugar.
“The claimant was clear herself about this – she knew full well the job she (would) do at Viglen when she accepted the prize. She told the nation on the BBC Breakfast TV show!”
The tribunal said Ms English had the wrong idea about how glamorous, or otherwise, the role would be and had stated in her evidence that she believed previous winners of the show “had accompanied Lord Sugar in his private jet”.
Mr Warren said: “The tribunal believes that the reality was that the claimant had in her mind that having won The Apprentice the role would be much more glamorous and that she would be working alongside Lord Sugar as his assistant.”