Fired JPL worker's skills questioned

A Jet Propulsion Laboratory manager offered testimony this week that appeared to undermine former JPL worker David Coppedge's claim that he was let go from the rocket science lab because of his belief in the intelligent design of the universe.

Coppedge has sued the La Cañada Flintridge lab for wrongful termination.

On Thursday, JPL manager Greg Chin laid out the specific complaints that he addressed with Coppedge prior to Coppedge's dismissal in 2011.

Chin said Nick Patel, who replaced Coppedge as the informal “team lead” for the information systems support office on NASA's Cassini mission to Saturn, had reported, “There were several sloppy mistakes other [administrators] had to fix.”

Chin also said a client complained that Coppedge failed to keep accurate records of off-site backup data, which could have caused a delay in retrieving information and did require extra cleanup work.

As his technical competency was questioned, Coppedge's ability to get along with co-workers also was called into question.

James Zapp, JPL's lead attorney, questioned Chin about notes he had made before meeting with Coppedge in 2009 that said co-workers had lost confidence in Coppedge.

“I had conversations with office managers, various customers, looked to find their opinions; and some of them just did not want to work with David,” Chin testified.

William Becker, the attorney representing Coppedge, began his cross-examination of Chin by asserting that the March 2009 meeting had as much to do with beliefs about the origins of the universe as it did with work-related tasks.

“You two had a disagreement as to what was a personal belief and what was a scientific fact,” Becker said. “And you didn't want to hear his views about [intelligent design] in that meeting.”

Chin said that was true, but the meeting was about workplace conduct.

“The whole point of the meeting was we didn't want to be having these discussions,” he said.

“I asked David to do these things during non-work hours, after work, during lunch.”

Chin is scheduled to take the stand again Monday.

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