Man's case against JPL drags on
Former employee claims he was fired because of his belief in intelligent design.
Former JPL worker David Coppedge, left, and William Becker appear in court at the Stanley Mosk Courthouse in Los Angeles in March. Coppedge claims the NASA agency terminated him because he discussed with fellow colleagues his belief in intelligent design. (Cheryl A. Guerrero / Staff Photographer / March 13, 2012)
Over the course of five post-trial briefs, attorneys for JPL and David Coppedge, a one-time administrator on the Cassini mission to Saturn, have recapped and refined their arguments.
Coppedge is seeking unspecified damages for his allegation that JPL removed him from his job in 2011 because of his advocacy of the theory of intelligent design of the universe. JPL has countered that Coppedge was a less-than-satisfactory worker whose dismissal came at a time when the La Cañada Flintridge laboratory was shedding jobs due to budget cuts.
On Aug. 28 Coppedge’s attorney, William Becker, filed papers addressing the legal definition of workplace retaliation.
Judge Ernest Hiroshige must decide whether to rely on precedent established by the California Supreme Court defining retaliation as “materially adverse actions” taken against the worker for improper reasons, or whether to turn to a 2006 U.S. Supreme Court ruling stating that retaliation occurs if a reasonable worker would have been deterred from speaking out about discrimination by the employer’s alleged actions.
In his papers, Becker said JPL’s conduct meets either standard. He said the question might be most important if Hiroshige’s ruling is appealed to a higher court.
“It tees it up as an appealable issue,” Becker said. “The bottom line is this: It doesn’t matter what test you use, because the facts support retaliation under either case.”
JPL lawyers argued at trial that Coppedge’s views about the origins of the universe had nothing to do with his 2010 demotion or 2011 dismissal.
Cameron Fox, one of JPL’s attorneys, said JPL will not submit a response to Becker’s Aug. 28 papers.
As to when Hiroshige will rule, neither side had an idea.
“I’ve asked some really good lawyers and nobody knows the answer,” Becker said. “One lawyer told me it’s as long as he wants to take. It could take a year, two years.”