Chess Master loses Employment Tribunal claim against GCHQ

hmctsA Chess Master who claims that he was turned down for a job at a British secret intelligence agency because of his “loyalty to God” has lost his claim for discrimination.

Charlie Storey, a chess Grand Master, applied to the British secret intelligence agency GCHQ for a post as an Information Assurance and Network Defence Specialist in July 2008, a post which required he highest level of security clearance. After his application he underwent a rigorous interview process. He was successful in his initial interview in 2008 and was informed that his application was ready to progress to the next stage. He was also informed, however, that a “firm offer” of appointment would be subject to enquiries by GCHQ into his health, security, and administrative matters.

As part of the enquiries into his background his GP sent GCHQ a record of his past medical history and treatment, which stated that Mr Storey had suffered from drug-induced psychosis in 1991, with further episodes of anxiety and paranoia in 2001 and 2003. Mr Storey’s GP also noted, however, that the incident of psychosis was of no relevance to the application as it occurred over 17 years ago. However, despite this a consultant forensic psychologist instructed by GCHQ stated that he had concerns about Mr Storey’s health which may render Mr Storey unfit to work for the organisation. Mr Storey was informed by GCHQ that the consultant psychologist had assessed him as an unsuitable candidate but that GCHQ was prepared to reconsider his rejection if he was willing to undergo further enquiries into his health and security matters. Mr Storey therefore chose to do so.

Mr Storey was medically assessed by GCHQ’s Occupational Health department in June 2009 as medically fit for the post but a further report by the consultant psychologist in June 2009 raised concerns about Mr Storey’s “integrity and reliability”. Mr Storey also underwent a vetting interview with a Vetting Officer, who recommended that security clearance should be refused to Mr Storey as a result of his “personal circumstances”.

After the rejection of his application Mr Storey submitted a claim to the Employment Tribunal in March 2010 for direct disability discrimination, disability-related discrimination, and direct religious belief discrimination.

The claim came to the Employment Tribunal in May 2013, with Mr Storey claiming that he had been refused the job because he had stated during the interview process that he was a “devout” Christian and that he owed “loyalty to God over his country”, and because of his previous medical history.

The Employment Tribunal rejected Mr Storey’s claims, holding that discrimination (disability-related, religious belief-related or otherwise) was not the reason for the rejection of his application. In particular, the Employment Tribunal stated that Mr Storey had not been subject to adverse treatment because of his religious beliefs and that any other applicant holding strong political, ethical or non-religious beliefs and would put those beliefs before their work would also have had their applications rejected.

Mr Storey appealed the Employment Tribunal’s decision but his appeal was unsuccessful (see Storey v Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) UKEAT 0629_14_2210).

Chris Hadrill, a specialist employment solicitor at Redmans, commented on the case: “One of the interesting facets of Mr Storey’s case is that he made his claim to the Employment Tribunal just before the new law relating to discrimination was introduced by the Equality Act 2010; had the incidents in question occurred on or after 1 October 2015 then he would probably have had a greater chance of succeeding with his disability-related discrimination claim (now known as discrimination arising from disability under the Equality Act).”