Ex-asylum seeker with infosec degree loses discrimination claim against UK cyber range provider after storming out

'It had nothing whatsoever to do with the claimant's country of birth', rules Employment Tribunal

A former asylum seeker with a postgraduate degree in cybersecurity who alleged his bosses were spying on him for MI5 has lost his attempt to claim he was racially discriminated against.

The anonymous man, who worked for an unnamed company that set up a UK cyber range in mid-2019, told the Employment Tribunal that he had quit after being subjected to racial harassment at work – but judges overruled all of his legal claims.

Although he gained a "postgraduate degree in computer security systems", his three months working for the 1,000-strong "technology services" business ended with petty squabbles over the use of a laptop instead of a workstation – and serious accusations of racial discrimination.

Described by his former colleagues as "extremely technically competent", the man entered the UK in 2004 unable to speak English and with no computer skills either, though he considerably bettered himself over the next 15 years. Yet when he joined the company, the man's working relationship with his bosses soon broke down to the point where he stormed off home after getting into a shouting match with a manager.

The man, who was not named by the Employment Tribunal, alleged that two of his managers had told him they were "employed by MI5 and MI6", were "watching him closely" and that he should be "very careful what he was doing".

Employment Judge Laura Howden-Evans, sitting on on a three-person panel, ruled: "Neither man had ever worked for MI5 or MI6. We do not accept that this remark was made to the Claimant."

Conceived as a new line of business, the cyber range was set up in March 2019 by the company's European cybersecurity personnel. Local talent was hired to run it during April with its first customer demo scheduled for mid-June. Its format was described in some detail by the tribunal:

The Cyber Range was set up in a separate room. It comprised of a large video wall of 9 individual screens and 6 computers each with its own workstation. 3 of these computers/workstations (the "blue machines") were facing the video wall; 2 of these computers/workstations (the "red machines") were not facing the video wall and there was a separate administration computer/workstation (the "purple machine") located in the room.

Deployment of the range infrastructure was shaky, with workstations encountering faults after apparently being deployed with incompatible software builds. These needed updates before they could be used for their intended purpose.

"Managers did not realise that there were still problems with some of the range's computers," said the tribunal, adding: "As the Claimant hit a problem with a computer, he would revert to working on the range laptop."

This annoyed his managers, who expected their personnel to use the dedicated range hardware for demonstrating the £500,000 project. It came to a head with a shouting match, with the man storming off home after telling Mr A "No, you leave the room!" Shortly afterwards he resigned, before filing an employment tribunal claim alleging a dozen different forms of mistreatment by his bosses, including that he would have to give up his annual leave to attend CISSP training. Not one of his claims were upheld.

The tribunal ruled that the company, which was also anonymised in its judgment, had not racially discriminated against the man, nor harassed him because of his race – and neither had it constructively dismissed him.

"We are satisfied that Mr A would have taken exactly the same approach with an employee that did not share the Claimant's race – the reason Mr A was asking the Claimant to do this was because the Respondent had demonstrations coming up; it had nothing whatsoever to do with the Claimant's country of birth," concluded the tribunal. ®

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