Scientist seeks $1.36M in lawsuit against JPL

A man who claims he lost his job at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory because he voiced support for the theory of intelligent design is seeking $1.36 million in damages and lost wages, according to court papers filed as the case winds down.

David Coppedge, a former administrator on the Cassini project to Saturn, is seeking $860,000 for lost wages and $500,000 for emotional distress damages. Attorneys for Coppedge claimed in Los Angeles County Superior Court earlier this year that his discussions of intelligent design with co-workers led to discipline that improperly curtailed his free speech rights, amounting to religious discrimination.

JPL attorneys, in a final round of briefs submitted to Superior Court Judge Ernest Hiroshige in May, say Coppedge was a problem employee who failed to prove his case at trial and is entitled to no compensation.

Hiroshige is expected to issue a ruling by June 8.

Coppedge's lawyer, William Becker, submitted a brief on May 8 reiterating the themes Coppedge touched on in his testimony: starting with a March 2009 meeting when Coppedge's supervisor, Greg Chin, told him to stop pushing his religion on his co-workers. Soon after, the systems analyst was allegedly subjected to a series of discriminatory actions, including reassignment, negative work evaluations, written warnings and, ultimately, termination.

“JPL failed to produce any credible or direct documentary evidence that its actions were connected to Coppedge’s ‘customer’ interactions at all,” Becker wrote.

Coppedge, who worked for JPL for 15 years, was laid off during a a year that saw steep budget cuts, prompting the La Cañada Flintridge laboratory to cut 200 administrative positions.

In the brief filed May 29, JPL attorneys describe Coppedge as an aggressive and “often rambling” witness who was demoted and then let go because of his job performance and an “ongoing interpersonal skills problem.”

The brief references testimony from several former co-workers and transcripts of Coppedge's employee evaluations, both of which paint a picture of years of accumulating complaints about Coppedge.

JPL lawyers argue that even if Coppedge is found to have been wrongfully terminated, the appropriate estimate for lost pay damages would be $163,000 to $212,000.

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