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Specialist for NASA mission demoted, threatened with termination for sharing views on intelligent design

ADF-allied attorney files suit on behalf of Jet Propulsion Laboratory specialist

LOS ANGELES — An Alliance Defense Fund allied attorney filed an amended complaint Monday in a lawsuit against Jet Propulsion Laboratory on behalf of an employee demoted, silenced, harassed, and threatened with termination for discussing his beliefs with willing co-workers about intelligent design as a scientific theory of life’s origins. The California Institute of Technology operates JPL under a contract with NASA.

Last year, David Coppedge--who since 2000 served as a high-level “team lead” technical specialist on JPL’s Cassini mission to Saturn--was ironically the victim of religious discrimination because taxpayer-funded JPL punished him on the basis of allegedly “pushing [his] religion,” ignoring the fact that the scientific theory he discussed with co-workers makes no reference to religion and has many non-religious adherents.

“Employees shouldn’t be threatened with termination and punished for sharing their opinion with willing co-workers just because the view being shared doesn’t fit what’s politically correct,” said ADF Senior Counsel Joseph Infranco. “Mr. Coppedge has always maintained that ID is a scientific theory. Regardless, JPL has discriminated against him on the basis of what they deem is ‘religion.’ The only discussion allowed is what fits the agenda. Stray, and you are silenced and punished. It just doesn’t fit with JPL’s otherwise fine reputation in the industry.”

“Discussing the origins of the universe with willing co-workers is not punishable just because it doesn’t fit a prevailing view at JPL,” said Coppedge’s attorney William J. Becker, Jr., one of more than 1,600 attorneys in the ADF alliance. Becker filed Coppedge v. Jet Propulsion Laboratory with the California Superior Court, Central District of Los Angeles County, on April 14. It’s the second suit involving viewpoint discrimination and intelligent design Becker has filed in Los Angeles. He filed a separate, unrelated suit in November 2009.

In March 2009, Coppedge’s supervisor, Gregory Chin, told him that co-workers had complained he was pushing his “religious” views by discussing intelligent design and offering them DVDs even though he never did so with anyone unwilling to talk to him. Chin then said Coppedge would lose his job if he kept “pushing [his] religion,” ordered him not to discuss politics or religion with anyone in his office, and repeatedly asserted that “intelligent design is religion.”  Coppedge told Chin that he would comply but that he felt his constitutional rights were being violated.

The next month, officials at JPL gave Coppedge a written warning for his “unwelcome,” “harassing,” and “disruptive” activities. The warning ordered him to refrain from such behavior or face further disciplinary action, including termination. Coppedge’s requests for specific details regarding the allegations were denied, leaving him no chance to defend himself. A few days later, JPL demoted Coppedge.

From April through August 2009, Coppedge was given the runaround when attempting to use a so-called “internal appeal process” to challenge the action taken against him. In April 2010, about a year after JPL was placed on notice of a potential lawsuit and a Fair Employment and Housing Act claim, Coppedge was told that the written warning would be removed from his personnel file but that he would not be restored to his team lead position, that offering DVDs on ID was inappropriate, and that he could not discuss ID with co-workers.

ADF is a legal alliance of Christian attorneys and like-minded organizations defending the right of people to freely live out their faith. Launched in 1994, ADF employs a unique combination of strategy, training, funding, and litigation to protect and preserve religious liberty, the sanctity of life, marriage, and the family.