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Lord Sugar, You’re Sued!

One of the most famous catchphrases on TV is Lord Sugar’s line: ‘You’re fired’ and it won’t be long before the multi-millionaire appears on our screens for another series of The Apprentice. Fans of the BBC show might remember Stella English, the contestant who won series six of the show back in 2010. I found the first series compelling then lost interest as the candidates became increasingly poor calibre, but willing to do almost anything for their 15 minutes of fame. Apparently Ms English’s no-nonsense business style and down-to-earth approach shone through and allowed her to triumph over favourite Chris Bates.

However, it seems that her plans for a dream job with ‘Britain’s belligerent boss’ were short-lived after she resigned from her position as project manager at Lord Sugar’s Viglen business in October last year and brought a claim of constructive unfair dismissal. Reports suggest that the relationship broke down after Lord Sugar refused to renew her contract with the company, which was due to expire in December last year. Ms English claims that she had to report to a more junior manager (Shock! Horror!) and was given basic administrative tasks for the duration of her four-month probationary period. When she was moved to another of his companies, Youview, a web-connected television service, Ms English complained to Lord Sugar about the lack of work within her role. He apparently went “off the radar” and she was unable to speak with him for several months.

I’m afraid that I haven’t got much sympathy for her. This was TV for Heaven’s sake. If she colludes in what is frankly a ridiculous and two dimensional selection process, she shouldn’t be entirely surprised if things are not what they seem. It seems extraordinarily naïve to expect things to be sugar coated (no pun intended). It also seems that her hissy fit came in response to the news that her contract wouldn’t be renewed.

It is frustrating that she hasn’t made the best of what could be an excellent opportunity. Most of The Apprentice winners moved on after a period of two or three years (though one is still employed),but during their time there they gained useful experience and skills. It’s impossible to comment on the limited facts available, but from her own evidence it seems that Ms English had somewhat unrealistic expectations of personal mentoring and special treatment.

Ms English is arguing before the employment tribunal that she has been unfairly dismissed through the constructive route. She will have to show that something which constitutes a dismissal has occurred – i.e. the employer committed such a serious breach, that the original contract was fundamentally affected and the breach had the effect of ending it in its original form. The resignation must be in response to the breach. She will also have to show that the breach was unfair.

Although such claims can be difficult to prove, if successful they can give rise to damages for wrongful dismissal and if an employee has more than 12 months’ continuous service, he or she is also entitled to claim for unfair dismissal. Whether Ms English’s claim will be successful remains to be seen. Watch this space…

 

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