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Judge: NASA firing of JPL employee wasn't due to intelligent design advocacy

SternisheFan (2529412) writes | about a year and a half ago

NASA 0

SternisheFan (2529412) writes "Earlier today, NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory's staff were busy recounting their latest successes on the surface of Mars. At the same time, news broke that JPL's lawyers were succeeding in the courtroom. In 2010, JPL was sued by an employee for religious discrimination after it asked him to (among other things) stop aggressively promoting intelligent design at work. A wrongful termination charge was added less than a year later after the employee, David Coppedge, was let go. But the judge overseeing that case has accepted the JPL's arguments that Coppedge was let go for performance reasons as part of a larger cutback of staff.

Coppedge had worked on the Cassini mission to Saturn, starting as a contractor in 1996, and later becoming a full-time employee. But one of the projects he pursued on his own time was the promotion of intelligent design, the notion that the Universe and, most prominently, life itself, is too orderly to have come about without a designer. (Like many others in that movement, Coppedge is a self-identified evangelical Christian.)

In 2009, he apparently got a bit aggressive about promoting these ideas at work, leading one employee to complain. The resulting investigation found that he had also aggressively promoted his opinion on California's gay marriage ban, and had attempted to get JPL's holiday party renamed to "Christmas party." (There's detailed background on the case here.) Coppedge was warned about his behavior at work, but he felt it was an infringement of his religious freedom, so he sued. Shortly after, as part of a set of cutbacks on the Cassini staff, he was fired.

In court, Coppedge and his lawyer portrayed him as being targeted for promoting an idea that is, to put it mildly, not popular with scientists. But JPL's legal team introduced evidence that his aggressive promotion of it at work was part of a pattern of bad interactions with his fellow employees that dated back at least five years earlier. In this view, pushing intelligent design on his co-workers was just one facet of a set of behaviors that made the working environment awkward and less productive. The judge hearing the case has decided that JPL's version of the matter is accurate, and he's asked lawyers to submit potential rulings based on that decision. A final verdict based on those should be released next month."

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