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

John G. West


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.

John G. West

Senior Fellow, Managing Director, and Vice President of Discovery Institute
Dr. John G. West is Vice President of the Seattle-based Discovery Institute and Managing Director of the Institute’s Center for Science and Culture. Formerly the Chair of the Department of Political Science and Geography at Seattle Pacific University, West is an award-winning author and documentary filmmaker who has written or edited 12 books, including Darwin Day in America: How Our Politics and Culture Have Been Dehumanized in the Name of Science, The Magician’s Twin: C. S. Lewis on Science, Scientism, and Society, and Walt Disney and Live Action: The Disney Studio’s Live-Action Features of the 1950s and 60s. His documentary films include Fire-Maker, Revolutionary, The War on Humans, and (most recently) Human Zoos. West holds a PhD in Government from Claremont Graduate University, and he has been interviewed by media outlets such as CNN, Fox News, Reuters, Time magazine, The New York Times, USA Today, and The Washington Post.

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David Coppedgediscriminationintelligent designjet propulsion labNASANationWilliam Becker