Coppedge v. JPL & Caltech: New Pleadings #3

As you know, David Coppedge is 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), which is part of Caltech. He also maintains a creationist website: Creation-Evolution Headlines — which was recently moved here. This earlier post should provide you with enough background to appreciate what’s going on here.

The trial is scheduled to start on 07 March, so last week when we posted New Pleadings #2 we thought there wouldn’t be any more pre-trial news except for the judge’s rulings on all the pending motions. But we were wrong.

The pleadings we’ll be discussing today have been obtained (at significant cost) from the court clerk’s office by our friends at the National Center for Science Education (NCSE), and then posted at their archive of pleadings in the case: NCSE’s Coppedge archive. They’re scans of pdf files.

All of this pre-trial activity concerns a bunch of motions in limine, to determine what evidence the judge will allow in or exclude from the trial. The bold font in the pleadings was added by us for emphasis.

Except for a technical correction filed by Coppedge’s attorneys, all of the latest pleadings were filed by JPL-Caltech. The first of those is JPL’s Oppostion to Coppedge’s Motion in Limine #2, to Exclude References to Proposition 8. Recall that Proposition 8 was a proposal to ban gay marriage in California. Coppedge supported Prop 8, and his badgering co-workers about that was one of JPL’s complaints about him. In his motion in limine, he’s trying to keep that topic from being mentioned at the trial. He claims that it would be prejudicial, “a distraction to the jury, will mislead the jury and confuse the issues and will result in an undue consumption of time, particularly during jury selection.”

In opposition to that, JPL-Caltech has filed a 75-page pleading which is mostly exhibits but the memorandum is rather good. It says:

In Coppedge’s untimely Motion in Limine No. 2, he makes the preposterous claim that Caltech wants to “inflame the jurors’ passions [and] prejudices” and “mislead the jury into believing that this case is really about Coppedge’s views against gay marriage.” … That is utter nonsense. Caltech simply wants the jury to hear the facts, nothing more. Coppedge’s manner of interacting with Caltech’s employees regarding Proposition 8 is an integral part of this case. Two of the three employees who complained about Coppedge … cited his conduct in connection with Proposition 8, and Coppedge’s April 2009 written warning was based in part on his interactions with them about Proposition 8.

These indisputable facts undermine the gravamen of Coppedge’s claims, i.e., that he was discriminated and retaliated against based on his perceived religious views. Proposition 8 has nothing to do with religion or intelligent design, and that is the real reason why Coppedge wants to hide this evidence from the jury.

[…]

Proposition 8 is no more inflammatory than views on the origins on life — and yet Coppedge and his counsel are determined to turn this trial into a forum on intelligent design.

The next item is JPL’s Opposition to Coppedge’s Motion in Limine #3, to Exclude Evidence and Argument that JPL Had a Right to Interfere with Coppedge’s Political Activities. Coppedge’s motion claimed that this will confuse the issues, mislead the jury, and cause him undue prejudice. He says he had the right to make political speeches and hand out flyers, and it’s unfair for JPL-Caltech to deny him that right and then mention his activities at the trial.

In opposing that motion, JPL-Caltech says:

Caltech has never argued that it had a “right” to interfere with Coppedge’s political activities, nor does it plan to do so at trial. As Caltech has maintained throughout this lawsuit, it disciplined Coppedge because of the manner of his speech, without regard to the content thereof. Caltech does have the right, indeed the obligation, to regulate employee conduct in the workplace, to prevent unwelcome, offensive and/or disruptive conduct, and that is all Caltech sought to do here.

JPL-Caltech has additional arguments in their memorandum, but they’re a bit technical, referring to earlier court rulings and claiming that Coppedge is trying to get around them with some clever gamesmanship. We won’t go into that here, but if you’re a legal junkie you won’t want to miss that.

There are two more pleadings in this latest batch, and we’ll discuss them in another post. Meanwhile, we can’t help but notice that the judge has his hands full with this thing. No doubt he’ll be glad when it’s over.

And with the trial coming so soon we have to wonder — is this case so intensely acrimonious that the parties simply can’t reach a settlement? We’ve assumed all along that JPL would toss a few bucks at Coppedge to make him go away, and this twisted thing would never go to trial.

But it’s starting to look like either JPL won’t do that, or they’ve tried and Coppedge won’t accept it — maybe because he’d rather crusade for creationism. Neither side seems willing to give an inch, and if that’s true then there’s no hope of avoiding a trial. That’s great for the lawyers, but it’s a ghastly way for JPL to have to run its business. And there’s a big lesson here for other employers — they won’t be eager to hire creationists.

Copyright © 2012. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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7 responses to “Coppedge v. JPL & Caltech: New Pleadings #3

  1. This case is not about Coppedge and his “unjust” treatment by JPL. It’s a manufactured case by the DI to highlight how ID has been “expelled.”

    Note that Coppedge filed to eliminate everything about his behavior that got him reprimanded to just about ID. Coppedge was a classic workplace jerk but he’s trying to get his “persecution” limited to ID. No mention of Prop 8 or the Holiday party or the other things he bugged his coworkers about for over a decade.

    Coppedge also filed to block testimony from the HR economist/job placement expert. Why? Because the record would show that the Valley is full of job openings for UNIX system management and tape monkey jobs, but old Coppers hasn’t been looking for a job. Doesn’t care.

    No, Cop isn’t going to settle. That would wipe out his entire persecution story. Selling out to the Man? No way!

    As for JPL, their case seems solid. Corporate HR documenting everything and going by the book. Difficult to fault. Tried to get old Coppy a job but he balked at that. Probably tried to get him reassigned if their layoff program was typical of other corporate programs, but Coppers didn’t want to play. No, his narrative was set by his masters at the DI and here we are.

  2. My guess is that Coppedge’s side approached JPL with a settlement offer, but JPL refused. That would be consistent with the DI’s pleas to the public to write and call NASA management on Coppedge’s behalf.

    In the DI’s posting http://support.discovery.org/site/MessageViewer?em_id=2406.0&dlv_id=6326 last November they write Rather than settle the case, the Jet Propulsion Lab has continued to wage legal war on David Coppedge—wasting precious taxpayer dollars in the process. Clearly they were hoping for a settlement.

    I think Coppedge’s attorneys might be a little surprised that JPL did not roll over, and they’re becoming rather desperate to exclude damning evidence against their client. JPL, on the other hand, will want to keep the pressure up until Coppedge makes an offer they cannot refuse.

  3. A settlement would imply guilt, like paying off someone not to talk. There is nothing wrong with the case going to court in fact I think it’s a great idea! Many liberal groups sue the government all the time for a variety of things. Legislation from the bench is the motto. It will be an interesting case, I can’t wait to see how it pans out!

  4. Coppedge sued JPL originally because his feelings were hurt. He suffered no loss in grade and no loss in pay. He also waited a year after he was reassigned before filing a grievance. He had no case then and he has no case now. He doesn’t want this case to go to trial because he’s going to lose and get stuck with the court costs.

  5. I hope JPL has not and will not try to settle out of court.

    I think this practice by businesses that have done nothing wrong costs more in the long run than it saves in the short run. It encourages all prospective blackmailers to give it a try resulting in an endless flood of such lawsuits.

  6. Really Jack, were you there when things went down at JPL or is it because Coppedge is anti-evolution? I’m glad your not on the jury! Let’s hear the evidence when it is presented in court then debate who is guilty or innocent. Insurance companies by the way settle out of court all the time because there are so many lawsuits. JPL is not in that position so it would be easier for them not to settle.

  7. I’m reasonably sure that JPL said that they will not settle. I’m not sure why that’s the case, but it’s their fight. I for one am glad that they’re willing to go the distance. The legal expenses arguably hurt the ID proponents more than it does JPL.