A judge has said he is inclined to rule in favor of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in a lawsuit by a former high-level computer systems administrator who said he was harassed and demoted for expressing support of intelligent design to co-workers.
"The court would enter judgment in favor of (JPL) on all causes of action," Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Ernest Hiroshige in a one-page tentative decision issued Wednesday rejecting plaintiff David Coppedge's case. "This ruling is based upon the arguments and points and authorities presented in the final arguments of (JPL) which are adopted by this reference as the rationale for this ruling."
Hiroshige directed JPL lawyers to prepare a proposed final judgment.
Plaintiff attorney William Becker said during his closing argument of a nonjury trial of his client's suit claiming that Coppedge was subjected to a "series of adverse acts that taken as a whole add up to retaliation."
He recommended an $850,000 award.
JPL lawyer Cameron Fox scoffed at Coppedge's retaliation claim.
"There is not a shred of evidence that is true," she told Hiroshige.
She said that the plaintiff's loss of employment at JPL was "layoff- needs-based, and David Coppedge knew it."
Coppedge maintains he was fired as punishment for bringing the suit, but JPL officials say he was laid off nine months after the court filing as part of a staff reduction.
Coppedge was an information technology specialist and system administrator on JPL's Cassini mission to Saturn.
According to his suit, JPL demoted him for allegedly "pushing religion" by loaning interested co-workers DVDs supportive of intelligent design.
Believers of intelligent design say there is evidence of design in nature and challenge evolutionary theory that life is based on random chance.
JPL lawyers contended in their court papers that Coppedge harassed co- workers by forcing them to hear his opinions about intelligent design and Proposition 8, the 2008 gay marriage initiative.
They have said the DVDs had nothing to do with Coppedge's demotion and that two JPL managers who were Christian -- like the plaintiff -- actually bought DVDs about intelligent design from him.
Coppedge joined JPL in 1996 through a contract with another agency and became a full-time JPL employee in 2003. He and and another systems administrator were eventually laid off as part of a staff reduction, according to JPL lawyers.
Fox said Coppedge and the other systems administrator who lost his job both were less adept than those who kept their employment.
"Their skills were in technology that was being phased out altogether," she said.
In a sworn declaration, Coppedge denied he was aggressive in expressing his opinions about religion, including his criticism through emails of the change in name of the 2003 Cassini Christmas party to a "holiday party."
"I was not pushy, scolding or demanding in these emails," he said. "In fact, my purpose was to convince them to not be so politically correct. It wouldn't have made any sense for me to have been pushy."
Becker said Coppedge, who sued in April 2010, had 11 years of outstanding work evaluations.
JPL, a division of the California Institute of Technology, operates under a contract with NASA.