Usually, the stories we publish about employment agency owners’ legal troubles don’t bode well for the accused.
That’s not the case for one story from England, where the chair of recruitment agency Pertemps, Tim Watts, won a £100,000 (US$160,000) settlement against a former employee who accused him of being a “sex pest.”
Watts is said to be worth more than £35 million, and is a highly public figure in the West Midlands.
He has been involved in similar entanglements in the past. According to reports, Watts once allegedly chased down and screamed expletives at a bus driver whom he said damaged his Rolls Royce. He also sued another businessman in 2008 for calling him a “dickhead” — and won.
According to the Daily Mail, Debbie Smith was fired in 2009 from a subsidiary of the agency, P Investments, after losing £250,000. Smith, who was managing director, alleged that Watts called her a “sexy nurse,” and made other sexual jokes.
“It seemed that on every occasion he took the opportunity to comment inappropriately,” Smith, who has been in the recruiting industry for more than 25 years, said. “He once asked me to phone him before going for a shower which I thought was wholly inappropriate.”
Watts claimed he’d only met Smith three times. He must have gotten enough of an impression, though, as he told the Mail she was a “very silly lady. There’s a Miss Jekyll and Ms. Hyde. She could be quite a charming person and there’s a very dark side to her.”
The Birmingham Employment Tribunal was told that Smith actually enjoyed bawdy humor and acquired her husband through an “adulterous affair” at work.
The tribunal’s panel concluded she was seeking revenge after being fired for underperforming, claiming sexual harassment and victimization as “a bargaining chip to secure a negotiated settlement.” They noted she filed no complaints until after her firing, despite Smith saying the reason she was let go was because she filed a grievance.
Watts sought £250,000 in damages, but settled for £100,000. According to news reports, he didn’t want to bankrupt Smith.
Watts is now demanding changes to Britain’s employment tribunal system, feeling all employers are treated as guilty until proven innocent.
“I’m a great fan of the English legal system,” he told the press. “It’s the best in the world and we have a tenet in English law which says if anyone is accused of anything they are entitled to be innocent until proven guilty.”