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UK - Pertemps chairman awarded damages following false allegations

05 August 2011

Birmingham businessman Tim Watts has been awarded what is thought to be record costs after a former employee made false claims of sexual harassment, discrimination and victimisation against the Pertemps chairman, allegations ruled totally unfounded following an employment tribunal hearing in the city which concluded earlier this year.
 
Debbie Smith, of Sutton Coldfield, was told her complaints were vexatious and frivolous and she had been "out to get" Watts.
 
She had accused her multi-millionaire recruitment agency boss of sexually harassing her. But the tribunal accepted Mr. Watts' evidence that the assertions were a 'pack of lies'.
 
Now Ms Smith has agreed to pay 100,000 Pounds in costs, dwarfing what is believed to be the previous high of 67,000 Pounds.
 
Watts initially claimed 250,000 Pounds but settled for the lesser amount for fear of bankrupting her. He refused to agree to a confidentiality clause. During the case, which first went to a hearing in September 2010, Mr Watts had spoken of how he had always felt that there were two Debbie Smiths 'a Ms Jekyll and a Ms Hyde'.
 
He charged "this case was brought in peek and anger by Smith. There was never a scintilla of truth in any of her accusations."
 
"She has agreed to pay 100,000 Pounds into court and I have accepted that."
 
As what he described as the target of a 'green-mailer', Watts insisted it was high time the government stamped out a practice, which was "earning people millions of pounds out of the coffers of business".
 
He went on "like many others, Debbie Smith no doubt thought she could secure an easy bung.  After all, most companies, even when they are in the right, which, I would submit, tends to be the majority of the time, settle such disputes because of the spiralling cost of fighting them.  Not me. I have never taken a backward step in my life. My reputation means everything to me … and I wasn't having it. I wanted the truth to come out. And it did.  These vexatious spongers have to be taught a lesson. And she has been … big time."
 
The term 'greenmail', 'green' from greenback, slang for a dollar bill, and 'mail' from blackmail, was first coined in the United States. In the industrial tribunal context it has come to mean anyone seeking to force a company into handing over money by threatening to take action under the system.
 
Mrs Smith was dismissed after the Pertemps subsidiary she was running, P Investments, made a loss of 250,000 Pounds. She was a 90,000 Pounds-a-year-executive at the time.

Watts said "small businesses and charities are groaning under the burden of complying with employment law that encourages employees to misrepresent themselves as victims of bullying and discrimination whenever their poor performance or behaviour is tackled. The Debbie Smiths of this world, with a patently flimsy story, should in my view never get to the starting block."

"She was foolish enough to take me on… and lost. I don't take prisoners."

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