Apprentice Winner Loses Constructive Dismissal Claim

August 19, 2013

Apprentice Winner Loses Constructive Dismissal Claim

Stella English, a former winner of the TV programme ‘The Apprentice’, has lost her Employment Tribunal (ET) claim for unfair constructive dismissal, contrary to Section 95 of the Employment Rights Act 1996, against businessman Lord Sugar (English v Amshold Group Limited).

Ms English was one of two finalists of series six of the TV show, the winner’s prize being a 12-month contract of employment in one of Lord Sugar’s businesses. Although filming concluded in November 2009, the series was not shown until autumn 2010. The successful candidate was not notified until just before the final episode in the series was aired. During the interim period, both the finalists were offered a temporary contract of employment with one of Lord Sugar’s companies. Ms English went to work at Viglen, an IT company with 200 employees that is part of the Amshold Group. Viglen sells PCs to schools and was underperforming. Ms English was tasked with addressing and correcting specific issues. All seemed to be going well, although Ms English later complained of the treatment she received and told the ET that when she commenced work at Viglen, the managing director had told her, “Welcome to the real world, there is no job.” He denied having said this, however.

In December 2010, Ms English was told that she had won the contest and confirmed during TV interviews that she would be working at Viglen. She signed a new contract of employment and commenced work under it in January 2011. There was no indication that Ms English had any complaints as she had not raised any matters of concern with her manager or with Lord Sugar.

In May 2011, Ms English resigned, giving no clear reason for doing so. Concerned at the effect her early resignation would have on the credibility of The Apprentice, Lord Sugar arranged for her to be seconded to YouView Television Limited, which is not part of his Amshold Group but of which he was at that time non-executive chairman. Ms English signed a new contract in June 2011 and Amshold Group continued to pay her £100,000 per annum salary.

Ms English told Lord Sugar that she was happy at YouView, but her contract with his company ended at the end of December and YouView had no budget for staff other than independent contractors. She claimed that at a meeting between herself and Lord Sugar in September 2011, he had stated in no uncertain terms that he was unconcerned about her position, whereas Lord Sugar claimed that he was referring to his lack of concern over what was said in the media. Ms English argued that his conduct showed that her relationship with him was a ‘sham’ and was such that she was entitled to terminate her contract and claim constructive dismissal.

The ET rejected Ms English’s claims. There was no doubt that she knew what she had won and what she would be doing during her 12-month contract. The ET rejected her claims that she was given demeaning work or was marginalised during the time she was at Viglen. Nor was there evidence of unfair treatment. She had entered into a fresh contract to work at Viglen after the conduct she later claimed had occurred during the period she worked there prior to being declared the series’ winner. She then entered into a contract with YouView in June 2011. The ET found that the conduct complained of either did not occur or could not objectively be considered to have destroyed or seriously damaged trust and confidence in the employment relationship.

In the ET’s view, this was ‘a claim which should never have been brought’.