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Tentative Ruling in Coppedge Discrimination Case against NASA’S Jet Propulsion Lab

Computer systems administrator David Coppedge was harassed, demoted, and ultimately discharged by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab (JPL) after sharing some pro-intelligent design DVDs with colleagues at work. JPL eventually claimed that its actions against Coppedge had nothing to do with intelligent design, although a significant amount of evidence suggests otherwise. Earlier this year, Coppedge’s discrimination lawsuit was heard in a state court in California.

The judge in the case has now issued a tentative ruling that favors the Jet Propulsion Lab, and the Associated Press has published a story covering the tentative ruling.

In a statement on his website, Coppedge’s attorney William Becker says he “will not comment on the tentative decision, because it is just that — tentative.”

The tentative ruling is less than page (not counting cover sheets) and the judge does not explain his reasoning in the case or his analysis of any of the questions presented. So other than the fact that the judge right now has indicated a tentative ruling in favor of the Jet Propulsion Lab, there is nothing more that is known.

Whatever the judge’s ultimate ruling in the case, the evidence remains what it is, and people can (and should) evaluate it for themselves. JPL offered an evolving explanation for its actions against Coppedge, finally settling on a version of a “he was a bad employee” defense. The problem with this claim is that Coppedge had great performance reviews for most of his 14-year career at JPL. The evaluations soured — conveniently — after Coppedge’s supervisor expressed outrage that Coppedge was sharing his pro-ID videos with colleagues who wanted to see them. In addition, there is plenty of evidence that Coppedge’s due process rights were trashed by JPL, that his accusers tangled themselves in conflicting and contradictory statements, that there was blatant hostility against Coppedge’s intelligent design views at JPL, and that Coppedge was not the troublesome employee that JPL tried to claim.

It’s an unfortunate fact of life that victims of injustice do not always receive vindication in our courts. Because we don’t know the final ruling in this case yet (or, equally important, the judge’s reasoning), we still don’t know whether this will be the case for David Coppedge. But if Coppedge doesn’t receive his vindication in the courts, the problems of bigotry and discrimination at taxpayer-funded JPL that his case exposed will become all the more pressing as a matter of public policy.