Our last post about David Coppedge’s lawsuit against Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) and & Caltech was Klinghoffer Unleashed to Defend David Coppedge. Our post before that, David Coppedge v. JPL & Caltech — He’s Fired!, has all the background information you may need to bring you up to date.
Now, in the Pasadena Star News (JPL is located in Pasadena, California) we read Former JPL employee claims he was fired for doubting Darwin. They only permit us to copy a couple of paragraphs, so we’ll do that and mention their other content, leaving it to you to click over there to read the whole article. Here’s the news, with bold added by us:
[Coppedge’s] original lawsuit rested on claims of discrimination under California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act, [and] Coppedge’s legal team is now considering a new tactics – including taking a page from the Supreme Court’s Jan. 19 in NASA v. Nelson.
Here’s a link to that opinion, which is by Justice Alito: NATIONAL AERONAUTICS AND SPACE ADMINISTRATION, et al ., PETITIONERS v. ROBERT M. NELSON et al.. But that was a ruling against JPL employees who sought to terminate background checks which they claimed violated their privacy rights. What can Coppedge do with that? Let’s read on:
Becker [Coppedge’s lawyer] said he would seek to amend the complaint within the next two weeks to include a wrongful termination claim – adding that a First Amendment claim might also be on the table. “We’re also considering a First Amendment violation claim based on language contained in the Supreme Court’s (NASA v. Nelson) decision, which characterizes contract employees at JPL as no different from government employees at NASA’s other federally funded research centers,” Becker said.
Is that what NASA v. Nelson holds, and does it matter? Alito’s opinion says:
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is an independent federal agency charged with planning and conducting the Government’s “space activities.” … NASA’s workforce numbers in the tens of thousands of employees. While many of these workers are federal civil servants, a substantial majority are employed directly by Government contractors. Contract employees play an important role in NASA’s mission, and their duties are functionally equivalent to those performed by civil servants.
One NASA facility, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, is staffed exclusively by contract employees. NASA owns JPL, but the California Institute of Technology (Cal Tech) operates the facility under a Government contract.
The the Ninth Circuit had ruled that JPL employees didn’t have to be subjected to a government background check because it violated their privacy rights. NASA petitioned the Supreme Court to hear the case, and they did. Alito’s opinion says:
[T]he Government has an interest in conducting basic employment background checks. Reasonable investigations of applicants and employees aid the Government in ensuring the security of its facilities and in employing a competent, reliable workforce.
Respondents [the JPL employees] argue that, because they are contract employees and not civil servants, the Government’s broad authority in managing its affairs should apply with diminished force. But the Government’s interest as “proprietor” in managing its operations [citation omitted] does not turn on such formalities. … The record shows that, as a “practical matter,” there are no “[r]elevant distinctions” between the duties performed by NASA’s civil-service workforce and its contractor workforce.
At JPL, in particular, the work that contract employees perform is critical to NASA’s mission. … The Government has a strong interest in conducting basic background checks into the contract employees minding the store at JPL.
What if Coppedge falls into that description? All it means to us is that he would be required to go through a background check. The decision doesn’t say that he — and other JPL employees — are literally considered to be employees of the federal government for all purposes. And even if that were the case, can federal employees run amok in the workplace and evangelize their colleagues about creationism? We doubt it, but we may have the opportunity to find out.
Anyway, that’s all we can excerpt from the Pasadena Star News, so from here on we’re going to describe some of what it says. They quote a law professor who says NASA v. Nelson is irrelevant to the Coppedge case. We agree. Then they quote a JPL spokeswoman (until now, JPL has been very quiet about this case) who says that their Cassini mission workforce is down 40%, and attrition is natural.
But Becker, who is the lawyer for Coppedge, claims that Coppedge was terminated due to retaliation for the existing lawsuit. Then the newspaper quotes another law professor who says that protections for religious activity doesn’t included speech in the workplace. They also quote a couple of people from the Discovery Institute.
We recommend that you read the whole article, because aside from occasional blogs at the Discoveroids’ website, this is one of the few independent sources of information about this case that we’ve come across — and we’ve been looking.
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