Apprentice star loses constructive dismissal claim

16 April 2013

In a judgment released last week, former Apprentice winner Stella English lost her constructive dismissal claim against Lord Sugar’s group holding company.

Ms English won the 2010 series of The Apprentice (filmed in 2009 and held back from airing on the BBC until after the 2010 general election). In proceedings at the East London Employment Tribunal, it transpired that both of the Apprentice finalists worked for Lord Sugar’s IT company, Viglen, in a period before the winner was finally determined. When she was announced as the new Apprentice, Ms English was given a 12-month contract with Viglen. Part-way through the contract, she resigned without notice.

Following discussions with Lord Sugar, she joined YouView ­ a company he was the non-Executive Chairman of (albeit it was not part of the group) ­ where she was due to see out the fixed-term contract. Ms English resigned without notice after 4 months in the new role.

She then brought a Tribunal claim for constructive dismissal on the bases that she had been: treated by Lord Sugar as an “overpaid lackey”; advised by his associate that there was never any real role for her at Viglen; and pushed in to accepting the YouView role. She alleged breach of the implied term of trust and confidence. She also claimed automatically unfair dismissal on the grounds of raising a protected disclosure ­ but withdrew that claim at the end of the proceedings.

Ms English lost at Tribunal. The Tribunal found that there had been no breach of contract by the employer and, when considering specific events which she claimed as breaches, the Tribunal preferred the evidence of the other parties. For example, Ms English suggested that Lord Sugar had told her he did not “give a sh*t” about Viglen but the Tribunal found that this comment was not made. Ms English also alleged that she had been given the YouView role simply to protect the images of The Apprentice, the BBC, Lord Sugar and her ­ but the role was a ‘sham’. The Tribunal did not accept this argument and found that Lord Sugar had gone out of his way to find her another role after she unexpectedly left Viglen and that his group agreed to pay her salary despite the fact that it would not receive any direct benefit of her work.

Employment Judge Warren went on to note that she had been ill-advised in bringing the claims.

We note, generally, that Tribunals currently have the power to strike out claims that are scandalous, vexatious or have no reasonable prospect of success. New Tribunal rules are due to be announced in the near future ­ with the aim of bringing in stronger case management powers.

To access the full case judgment: please click here.