David Coppedge v. JPL & Caltech (29 Nov ’11)

This is about the case of David Coppedge, the creationist who claims he was wrongfully demoted (and later fired) by his employer because he was promoting Intelligent Design (ID) on the job. He used to work as a computer technician for Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL). He also maintains a creationist website: Creation-Evolution Headlines [which was recently moved here].

The trial is scheduled to start on 14 December, which is 15 days from now. If you haven’t been following the case, you can find some background information in this earlier post.

As you’ve known since we posted Discoveroids Spin Recent Coppedge Rulings a bit more than a week ago:

There’s been a “TENTATIVE RULING” on the 26 October motion for Summary Judgement, but we don’t know what the order says. … Until we see the pleadings, we won’t know what’s going on, but something obviously happened yesterday.

Now the court’s ruling has been posted at the website of the National Center for Science Education (NCSE), which maintains an archive of pleadings in the case here: NCSE’s Coppedge archive. This is the court’s Ruling on JPL’s Motion for Summary Judgment.

JPL’s motion was granted as to issues 2, 3, and 5 in Coppedge’s complaint, and denied on issues 1, 3, 4, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, and 11. Those nine remaining issues (they’re technically “causes of action”) will be decided in the trial. The other three are no longer part of the case.

If you want to see what those issues are, here’s Coppedge’s Second Amended Complaint. The issues that JPL won, and that won’t be going to trial, are (starting at page 22): Issue 2, Discrimination based on political activity and the exercise of protected rights; Issue 3, Retaliation in violation of the California Fair Employment and Housing Act; and Issue 5 (on page 28), Harassment. Although Coppedge has lost on those issues, he has plenty of others to present to the jury, as you’ll see if you review the complaint.

The court also ruled on some evidence questions, but there’s no detail given. We’d have to go back and look through all the objections that had been filed earlier, and that’s too much to bother with. The court’s order then briefly discusses its reasoning for letting several issues go to trial, so you may want to take a look at that. Essentially, the judge thinks there are “triable issues of fact” regarding those items.

This is likely to be the last time we’ll know what’s happening until the case is either settled or tried. It won’t be long now.

Copyright © 2011. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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8 responses to “David Coppedge v. JPL & Caltech (29 Nov ’11)

  1. A trial will be quite expensive. Based on the DI’s recent request to their flock to write Bolden and others and beg for a settlement, Coppedge’s attorneys must be rather worried about losing the trial (and more importantly, not being paid).

    It will be interesting to see if they make an offer that JPL cannot refuse – a small, face saving amount just to get out of the mess. The DI will spin it as a victory, the attorneys will take their cut, and Coppedge will be left with little or nothing. If had to make a bet on the outcome, that would be it.

  2. An interesting aspect of this is it will be a jury trial. The outcome of cases that go before a jury are unpredictable and can go either way.

    I’m not sure how the Dover trial would have turned out if it had been a jury trial. I am sure it would have been appealed if the creationists had won, and that the new school board would have declined to defend it on appeal.

  3. It’s surprising that JPL has continued to this point without settling. This lawsuit has been going on for 18 months. The JPL legal bill must be easily six figures by now, if not over a cool million. What does “winning the case” earn JPL, except possibly an invitation to a federal appeal?

  4. rubble asks:

    What does “winning the case” earn JPL, except possibly an invitation to a federal appeal?

    If these things are routinely settled, then creationist lawyers can make a living by filing such “discrimination” suits. It’s very good to make them sweat and possibly lose.

  5. That makes sense in the overall picture. That doesn’t necessarily make sense to JPL and their lawyers. In fact, if we’re cynical about it, it’s in JPL’s lawyers’ interest to settle, to encourage more work for them.

  6. I have several observations about large corporations and how they handle employees.

    First, it’s difficult to get fired from a big corporation. You really have to be incompetent or commit a crime to get actually fired. Even termination of useless employees takes years. Your performance evaluations have to be bad, you are given chances to recover or move to a different, more suitable position and unless you take the hint to quit, actual firing is quite a process. At least that was the case in our Fortune 10 company.

    Second, general layoffs are the manager’s best tool, unless they get laid off, too, because the rules are different. You don’t have to be a bad employee, just unfortunate to be in a section that’s made redundant or you are unable to jump to a different division or whatever. But, I’ve seen managers “get rid of” troublesome employees with impunity during layoffs. Your name goes on a list and that’s that.

    Now, in Coppedge’s case it’s a little different. JPL knew that Coppedge had sued them for wrongful demotion or whatever. Laying him off would certainly lead to a wrongful termination suit to boot. They had to know that. JPL also had to make a judgement call on how strong their case was in terminating an employee who lodged an official gripe. Most employees I’ve seen in this situation are so fed up with the company by the time they are let go it’s almost a relief and the last thing they want to do is battle.

    Unfortunately for JPL, Coppedge doesn’t appear to fit that profile. Coppedge has a serious issue with science and scientists. Just look at the diatribes on his blog that have been going on daily for years, even during the time he was demoted and laid off he didn’t miss a day of posting some rant about science. All science: biology, astronomy, physics, and even his own planetary team at JPL. Real bad case of “short man’s disease” we used to say. Of course, that’s irrelevant to his case, except that his increasing fanaticism may have affected his work relationships.

  7. Doc Bill: “Coppedge has a serious issue with science and scientists. Just look at the diatribes on his blog that have been going on daily for years, even during the time he was demoted and laid off he didn’t miss a day of posting some rant about science. All science: biology, astronomy, physics, and even his own planetary team at JPL. Real bad case of “short man’s disease” we used to say. Of course, that’s irrelevant to his case, except that his increasing fanaticism may have affected his work relationships.”

    It would seem, then, that JPL could make the case that Coppedge created a poisonous atmosphere in the workplace, and that a man with such an anti-science attitude could not be trusted to work diligently in a scientific institution such as JPL. His fanaticism could easily lead to sabotage.

  8. Come to think of it, didn’t we lose a Mars mission because of a mix-up between the scientists using metric units and the engineers using English feet & pounds? How many hundreds of $millions of our tax dollars did that cost? Might that have actually been deliberate sabotage by someone who could have caught the error but decided not to? Just sayin’…