Lord Sugar has told an employment tribunal that he feels wronged by former Apprentice winner Stella English suing him for constructive dismissal, and says he believes she is trying to ruin his reputation.
He told the East London Tribunal Centre he feels he has no case to answer over claims Ms English was treated as an “overpaid lackey”, and says he believes the 34-year-old is effectively blackmailing him.
Ms English was given a £100,000 contract with Lord Sugar’s company Viglen for winning series six of the BBC1 show in 2010 but she now claims it was not a real role and she was only employed to fulfil contract obligations agreed by the television show The Apprentice.
Giving legal submissions today, Lord Sugar's representative Seamus Sweeney said: “The claimant has, in the eyes of Lord Sugar, deliberately courted the media with a view of damaging his reputation.”
He told how Ms English had “sold her story” to the press several times and accused her of being a “headline-grabber”, deliberately sensationalising aspects of her evidence.
Referring to yesterday's sentencing of former Lib Dem cabinet member Chris Huhne, Mr Sweeney said Lord Justice Sweeney - who is no relation to him - described how Vicky Pryce using the media as a weapon.
He told the tribunal the same was true of Ms English, adding: “Using the media, in this case, was a weapon of choice... It was a first weapon of choice.
“On the contrary, Lord Sugar has maintained his position, his dignity, until he comes here…He can be forgiven in these circumstances for reacting passionately in his cross-examination because he feels wronged.”
Lord Sugar, who gave evidence to the hearing last week, had admitted losing his cool when questioned about what he described as “derisory actions”.
Mr Sweeney dismissed claims Ms English was intimidated or scared by the peer and said they had a good relationship.
“She sensationalises it and portrays him as always being angry in the meetings, and aggressive,” said Mr Sweeney. “It's theatre.”
He added: “She had been through 12 episodes of The Apprentice and knew what Lord Sugar was like.”
Ms English was initially given a job in Lord Sugar's IT division Viglen.
The peer has rejected Ms English's claim that Viglen chief executive Bordan Tkachuk, when asked for his verdict of her a few months after she started working, replied: “Nice girl, don't do a lot.”
Mr Sweeney said: “It is difficult to see how it could have been said that she didn't do a lot when no one seemed to be of that view. The claimant was liked.”
Ms English resigned from Viglen in May 2011 and said she then felt pressurised into taking up a new position at Lord Sugar's internet set-top box company You View.
However Lord Sugar said he was trying to help her out by offering her a new role as she had complained of being “desperate for money”.
During a meeting in September 2011, Ms English said she was told by Lord Sugar that her contract was not being renewed, with the mogul adding he had met his obligations to her.
However, Lord Sugar told the hearing there was no full-time position available at You View and that it had been explained that contractual work might be possible instead.
Mr Sweeney denied Ms English's job was “a PR construct”.
“It wasn't a sham,” he said. “It was a real job, with real money...
“It might not have been her dream job - that does not mean it was a sham.”
He added that she was doing “important work”, noting she had given a breakfast TV interview before taking up her post after winning The Apprentice and said she was “excited” about it.
“How she can then complain it was not entrepreneurial is a mystery as she knew what she was going to be doing,” added Mr Sweeney.
Philippa Jackson, representing Ms English, said Lord Sugar is “angry” at being sued, having publicly denounced “claim culture” during the tribunal.
“He's not going to be seen to be backing down,” she said.
“He doesn't think much of employees running off and complaining - they should get on with it.
”What's more, he doesn't like it when people cross him. That became evident in the course of his evidence.
“He doesn't even attempt to countenance he might have committed a breach and done something wrong.”
She said as Ms English was Lord Sugar's apprentice, she had the right to expect “a degree of mentoring” during her time working for him - something she alleges was lacking.
For there to be “a relationship of trust and confidence” between an employer and employee, both sides must consider the job to be “a genuine occupation”, added Ms Jackson.
Addressing the fact that Ms English did not make any complaints about the way she claims to have been treated before resigning, Ms Jackson said: “She was clearly in a difficult situation. She was overpaid. She's come into an established company in very unusual circumstances.
”All that is relevant in understanding why she did not raise any issues.“
The hearing has finished and the tribunal will make its decision within a month.
If there is to be a remedy hearing, depending on the verdict, it will take place on April 22.
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