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NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab Fires Cassini Mission Senior Computer Admin Who Filed Discrimination Lawsuit

Casey Luskin

Coppedge 1.jpgNASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) just dumped a lot of fuel on the fire of David Coppedge’s discrimination lawsuit by firing him on Monday. Coppedge’s lawsuit against JPL alleges discrimination because he was prevented from talking about intelligent design (ID).

This could potentially expose JPL to a claim of wrongful termination and increase the merits of Coppedge’s claim that JPL retaliated against him. According to Coppedge’s attorney William Becker, JPL claims the firing resulted from downsizing in the face of budget issues, but Coppedge is the most senior member of the team that oversees the computers on NASA and JPL’s Cassini Mission to Saturn. Coppedge doesn’t seem at all like the first person who would normally be forced to leave in such a situation, but obviously, JPL has other considerations.

Those other considerations began in 2009 when the administration found out that Coppedge had occasionally had friendly discussions about ID with fellow employees. Coppedge was not pushy in these conversations; if a colleague wasn’t interested, Coppedge dropped the matter. Nonetheless, one administrator yelled at Coppedge and ordered him to stop “pushing religion,” which led to Coppedge filing a claim of harassment. But rather than Coppedge’s harassment claim being investigated, Coppedge later learned that he was the subject of an investigation that charged him with creating a hostile work environment.

Coppedge was then demoted and threatened with losing his job if he persisted in purportedly “unwelcome” and “disruptive” discussions of ID. Part of JPL’s “Origins Program‘s” mission is purportedly to study questions like “How did we get here?” One would think that a little friendly conversation about intelligent design in the workplace would therefore be tolerated. But the gag order applied to no other JPL employees, and in fact JPL has openly tolerated anti-ID speech from its other employees. Sadly, David Coppedge was singled out and prevented from speaking in favor of ID.

To give some background on the timeline of Mr. Coppedge’s case:

  • 1997: Coppedge joins the Cassini mission team.
  • 2000: Coppedge earns recognition for excellence, receiving the role of “Team Lead SA” (system administrator).
  • April, 2009: Coppedge demoted from team lead SA position because he shared pro-intelligent design DVDs like Unlocking the Mystery of Life and The Privileged Planet with co-workers.
  • April, 2010: Coppedge filed suit against JPL alleging discrimination.
  • January, 2011: Coppedge fired from JPL due to supposed downsizing.

Casey Luskin

Associate Director, Center for Science and Culture
Casey Luskin is a geologist and an attorney with graduate degrees in science and law, giving him expertise in both the scientific and legal dimensions of the debate over evolution. He earned his PhD in Geology from the University of Johannesburg, and BS and MS degrees in Earth Sciences from the University of California, San Diego, where he studied evolution extensively at both the graduate and undergraduate levels. His law degree is from the University of San Diego, where he focused his studies on First Amendment law, education law, and environmental law.

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astronomyDavid Coppedgeevolutionintelligent designNASANation