LORD Sugar feels “wronged” by the former winner of the reality television show The Apprentice, suing him for constructive dismissal and believes she is trying to damage his reputation, a tribunal heard yesterday.
Stella English, 34, from Whitstable, Kent, claims she was treated as an “overpaid lackey” after being handed a £100,000 contract for winning series six of the BBC1 show in 2010.
Lord Sugar, however, told the East London Tribunal Centre he had no case to answer and that Ms English is effectively blackmailing him.
Giving legal submissions yesterday, 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 Monday’s sentencing of former Lib Dem cabinet member Chris Huhne, Mr Sweeney said the judge in that case, Lord Justice Sweeney – who is no relation to him – described how Vicky Pryce used 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.”
Philippa Jackson, representing Ms English, said Lord Sugar was “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. All that is relevant in understanding why she did not raise any issues.”
The hearing will make its decision within a month.