David Coppedge v. JPL & Caltech (28 May ’11)

It’s been more than two months since our last post on David Coppedge’s lawsuit against Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) and & Caltech. This is a good time to revise our background information, which we’ve omitted from the past few updates (a couple of links needed changing). Most of you can skip the next few indented paragraphs:

This is a suit by a creationist, David Coppedge, who claims he was wrongfully demoted (and later fired) by his employer because he was promoting Intelligent Design (ID) on the job. He works (or did until recently) for Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), He also maintains a creationist website: Creation-Evolution Headlines.

This is a big case for the neo-theocrats at the Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture (a/k/a the Discoveroids). They’re trying to establish some new kind constitutional right — an employee’s freedom to promote creationism in the workplace. One of their top legal talents, Discoveroid Casey Luskin, is advising the lawyer for Coppedge — that’s William J. Becker, Jr., who seems to be mostly a personal injury and workers’ comp lawyer.

To promote the issue, the Discoveroids initially waged a public relations campaign which we described here: The Coppedge Case: A Study in Tactics and Strategy. They’ve set up a page devoted to this case, which is here, but which seems to have languished for months.

The official information source for the Coppedge case requires payment of a small fee to the court clerks here: Superior Court of California, Los Angeles. At the box for “Case Number” you need to enter BC435600. Some minimal information is available for free — the names of the parties and their lawyers, a list of what documents have been filed, what proceedings have been held, and what future hearings have been scheduled.

Our last update was 12 Mar ’11. Coppedge, having been let go in what JPL said was natural attrition due to a 40% downsizing of its Cassini mission workforce, filed his Second Amended Complaint (that’s a 40-page pdf file archived at the Discoveroids’ website) adding counts for wrongful termination We discussed that in our last update, and not much has been happening since then. [Update: Here’s a better copy of that complaint from the newly-started NCSE archive: 2nd Amended Complaint with exhibits. It’s 83 pages long because it includes exhibits which the Discoveroids’ archive omits. The exhibits are an Ark-load of bureaucratic forms that the state (in its infinite wisdom) provides to employees as a precursor to litigation such as this.]

Before that, in our previous update of 18 Feb ’11, we discussed a Coppedge-friendly article that was presumably based on interviews with Coppedge and his lawyers. From that it appears that Coppedge’s creationist outreach activity on the job occurred “only” twice a month for a decade. That’s probably 240 instances of creationist proselytizing. Our conservative estimate, assuming that after a rebuff he would be unlikely to approach the same person again, is that there were (at least) 200 separate workplace incidents before JPL took disciplinary action.

Okay, you’re current through our last update. Now let’s take a look at the court’s docket and see what’s been happening. There have been only two new pleadings filed. Alas, all we have is the clerk’s docket entries, not the documents themselves. The first new item was an Answer to Second Amended Complaint that was filed on 02 May. We don’t know which of the many defendants filed it. We think they all have the same attorney, and if that’s true then it’s from all of them. [Update: It’s the same lawyer for all. This is from the NCSE archive: Answer to 2nd Amended Complaint (10-page pdf file).]

The second item, filed ten days later on 12 May, is a Partial Dismissal (“w/o prejudice,” which means the dismissed stuff can be filed again) of several counts in the latest complaint, leaving the 5th (harassment) and everything from number 7 through 11 (all about wrongful demotion and termination). The dismissal of counts 1-4 and 6 (alleging discrimination, retaliation, etc.) only applies to the three individual defendants (Burgess, Klenk, and Chin). Those counts still stand against JPL amd Caltech.

The dismissal was filed by the plaintiff’s attorney, and there’s no indication that there were any motions filed or hearings on it, so it was done voluntarily — apparently something that had been decided outside of court.

We don’t know what’s going on because the news media haven’t been reporting anything, we’re too cheap to pay the clerk for access to the pleadings, and the Discoveroids’ website about this case is very selective in what they post — the only pleading they offer is the latest complaint. All we have to go on is the courthouse docket entries. That’s better than reading chicken entrails, but not much better. Still, it’s interesting that Coppedge is dropping bits and pieces of his case regarding the behavior of his supervisors.

The trial is still set to start on 19 October 2011, which is five months from now. That’s all we know.

Addendum: We just learned that the National Center for Science Education has begun to maintain an archive of pleadings in this case, which you can find here: NCSE’s Coppedge archive.

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

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3 responses to “David Coppedge v. JPL & Caltech (28 May ’11)

  1. Pete Moulton

    “The trial is still set to start on 19 October 2011…” Only two days before the End of the World, as Harold Camping Knows It™. They may want to move the trial date up.

  2. Curmy, this case is finally on the NCSE radar. See their page dedicated to the case.

  3. Thanks, Rubble. That’s a good resource, because I’ve been flying blind. I was wondering why they’ve been ignoring it.