Stella English case shows difficulties in pursuing constructive dismissal cases

Stella English case shows difficulties in pursuing constructive dismissal cases

By Donna Martin, Employment Solicitor, Mackrell Turner Garrett

The recent defeat of Apprentice winner Stella English’s constructive dismissal claim against Lord Sugar highlighted the current difficulties in pursuing such a claim.

34-year old Ms English, who won the BBC1 show in 2010, claimed she was forced to resign from her £100,000-a-year job after she was treated like an “overpaid lackey.”

Ms English was initially given a job at Lord Sugar’s IT division Viglen, which Ms English originally claimed was a “sham” job and “PR construct” She said she was then pressured into taking up a new role at Lord Sugar’s internet set-top box company You View.

In a written judgement, tribunal judge John Warren said: “This was a claim which should never have been brought.”

Judge Warren added: “We do not find that any of the conduct about which the claimant complains… was conduct which destroyed or seriously damaged trust and confidence entitling the claimant to terminate her employment and to claim unfair constructive dismissal.”

Today’s result comes as no real surprise as constructive dismissal claims are notoriously difficult to prove and generally have a low success rate.

In order to succeed the employee must show that the employer was in breach of an express or implied term of their contract of employment; that the breach was fundamental or the last in a series of incidents which justifies their leaving; they have resigned in response to that breach; and they have not accepted the breach.

What is key here is that the breach must be fundamental and go to the very heart of the contract; an employee cannot simply resign over a minor disagreement with their employer and then expect to succeed in a claim for constructive dismissal, a grievance would be more suitable in this instance.

The Employment Tribunal in Stella English’s case did not feel that her complaint that her role was that of an “overpaid lackey” went far enough to constitute a fundamental breach. The Tribunal also commented upon Ms English’s failure to raise her concerns with Lord Sugar prior to resigning which can aid in proving that the employee resigned in relation to a particular breach.