JPL trial: Coppedge, NASA agency tell different tales

Two very different narratives are emerging from the trial in which former Jet Propulsion Laboratory worker David Coppedge claims he faced discrimination because he discussed the theory of intelligent design with co-workers.

Early this week, Coppedge testified that co-workers posted cartoons on their doors mocking the theory of intelligent design, which holds that God or an intelligent agent guided the creation and evolution of the universe.

Coppedge, who encouraged co-workers to watch DVDs on the subject, claims managers barred him from discussing religion or politics while co-workers were allowed to do so. His attorney, William Becker, said Coppedge worked with an unblemished record as a systems administrator on NASA's Cassini project to Saturn until 2009, when a co-worker complained about Coppedge and the intelligent-design DVDs.

But with Coppedge facing cross-examination on Wednesday, JPL lawyers laid out a history of complaints about Coppedge's work that had nothing to do with religion or politics.

JPL's lead attorney, James Zapp, said Coppedge's work performance had come under fire long before 2009 from JPL employees who had never discussed intelligent design, religion or politics with him.

Zapp asked Coppedge about a March 2004 meeting where Cassini project supervisors Greg Chin and Clark Burgess told Coppedge that co-workers complained he was stubborn and difficult.

“Office managers thought you were uncooperative, and Mr. Chin told you that some of the office managers on Cassini were even asking that you be removed, is that correct?” Zapp asked.

Coppedge said his own notes from the meeting confirmed the topic had been raised.

“[Chin] reported that members of my own team had expressed the same concerns, that I appeared too opinionated or unwilling to listen,” Coppedge said.

On Wednesday, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Ernest Hiroshige told Coppedge several times to give yes or no responses to Zapp's questions, rather than adding commentary.

“This is not a yes or no question; this is out of context,” Coppedge said in response to one question about his meetings with JPL supervisors. “I'm learning the art of spin doctoring here.”

The case is expected to continue with testimony from Coppedge's former co-workers.

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