David Coppedge Trial: Week Four Ends

A couple of days ago we posted what we could about the trial’s Fourth Week, but because of a total lack of news we didn’t have much to say. Today we do.

As you know, we’re discussing the suit filed by 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. As you recall, 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.

In the La Cañada Valley Sun of La Cañada Flintridge, California — that’s where JPL is located — we read JPL ‘intelligent design’ trial coming to a close. Here are some excerpts, with bold font added by us:

Closing arguments may take place next week in the case of a former Jet Propulsion Laboratory worker who claims he was fired for his advocacy of the theory of intelligent design of the universe.

How disappointing for the Discoveroids. They had hoped the trial would drag on for months, revealing to the world all the woes that Big Science has been inflicting on the heroic few who stand up for Intelligent Design. On with the story:

David Coppedge, a former systems administrator on JPL’s Cassini mission to Saturn, is seeking unspecified damages, though an expert witness called on his behalf estimated Coppedge is entitled to about $850,000 in lost and potential wages, according to attorney William Becker. Coppedge also is seeking an unspecified amount for intentional infliction of emotional distress.

Coppedge ought to get at least a trillion for all of his emotional distress. His headaches alone should be worth billions. Let’s read on:

Earlier this week Becker and James Zapp, the lead attorney for JPL, argued over the witnesses JPL could call in an attempt to refute Coppedge’s claim [that he was demoted and fired because of his religious beliefs].

“They can come in with 90 people who will say my client is a bum, but the documentary evidence doesn’t hold up,” Becker said.

Unless the guy was continuously being videotaped, JPL probably doesn’t have documentary evidence of Coppedge’s behavior — only testimony from his co-workers. It appears that Becker doesn’t want the judge to hear much of that. We continue:

One of JPL’s remaining witnesses is economist Michael Ward, who Zapp said will counter the $850,000 figure offered by Coppedge’s economic expert, Ted Vavoulis.

That’s interesting. You may recall that the Coppedge team had tried to exclude such testimony. See Coppedge’s Motion in Limine #5, to Exclude Testimony from JPL’s Expert Witness Regarding Coppedge’s Mitigation Efforts. Apparently they lost that one.

In fact, Coppedge must have lost several such motions. There haven’t been any reports of creationist DVDs being shown to the court. Nor, apparently, has there been testimony that Coppedge’s creationism was somehow relevant to the work JPL was doing, nor testimony about all the discrimination that advocates of creationism have routinely encountered over the years because of “Darwinist” prejudice. The trial seems to have been largely limited to Coppedge’s work record. Dreary stuff. Here’s one last excerpt:

Also at stake in the case are attorneys’ fees and costs, which JPL would have to pay if Coppedge wins. Becker said his costs to date are around $75,000, but that does not include his attorney fees. “I won’t put a number on it, but you can imagine what two years of work would be,” he said.

We won’t attempt to estimate the value of Becker’s services. If things work out as they should, Becker won’t have to worry about it either.

Next week should be fun. Maybe the press will cover the closing arguments.

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

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14 responses to “David Coppedge Trial: Week Four Ends

  1. “They can come in with 90 people who will say my client is a bum, but the documentary evidence doesn’t hold up,” Becker said.

    What a strange thing to say for a couple of reasons. First, unless a guy was really a bum it would be impossible for the JPL lawyers to find 90 people who would testify under oath that Coppedge was a bum. Is Becker implying that JPL employees would perjure themselves? For what reason would they do that? Or is Becker implying that Coppedge really is a bum and it would be easy to launch a parade of witnesses? I do not know what Becker’s angle is.

    Second, like all creationists, just to use a wide, tarry brush, Becker is keen to invoke the letter of the law when it suits him. Just like the Disco Tute feigns innocence claiming that ID is not creationism because they never use the word “genesis.” Hogwash. Becker is implying that since Coppedge’s supervisors never wrote, “Coppedge is a bum,” in a performance review that there is no documentary evidence. Well, for starters, anyone who has been a supervisor in a corporation knows you simply can’t write personal comments in performance reviews! Nor can you comment about a person’s appearance, habits, religion, age, gender and a whole list of things.

    Hopefully, the judge is experienced enough to see through Becker’s smoke and toss this meritless case into File 13 where it belongs.

  2. It’s up to Becker to prove that JPL acted with wrongful, illegal motives, and that his client was harmed. JPL is presumed innocent until the plaintiff proves otherwise. Becker may claim that the documentation does not support JPL, but I’m quite sure that none of it documents an effort to persecute Coppedge. Instead, the documentation produced so far appears to be the normal documentation expected of a company that is making no special effort to persecute someone. (If JPL intended to persecute Coppedge, they would have prepared extensive documentation throughout the years, and he would have had numerous warnings and other actions). Becker certainly hasn’t found a smoking gun in the documentation, or he would have been crowing about it long ago. The onus is on Becker to prove his case, and we haven’t heard any indication yet that he is able to do that, especially based on documentation.

    As to proving harm, Becker’s task is no easier. JPL, or any other non-union shop can reassign lead responsibilities between members of a team at will. The manager can rotate the position periodically, or decide to put someone different in the role to resolve personality conflicts with customers. It’s not a demotion, there is no change in grade or pay, and the lead position is not exactly a prestigious role – it’s below even the first level of actual management. Becker has to somehow show that actual harm was done by the move – and other than self-inflicted emotional distress, it will be very difficult to make that case.

    With respect to harm due to the lay-off, there is no question that Coppedge was harmed by the loss of his job, but Becker has to show that he was wrongfully laid off. That means proving that he was more qualified than someone else who was retained, and thus was wrongfully selected for lay-off. That’s a difficult task in the first place, but in this case it’s even more difficult since Coppedge was one of a large number of employees laid off, including at least one other sys admin. To begin with, the lay-off was initiated due to an outside cause – reduce budget from NASA. Secondly, JPL has not replaced Coppedge’s position, so clearly it is redundant to the program. Thirdly, JPL has made the case that it was particularly thorough in analyzing it’s needs, and the skills of the existing employees, before selecting the individuals to be laid off. Becker, once again, has the onus of proving that JPL acted with some sort of wrongful motive. That would be a huge challenge in a layoff as large as the one at JPL, to prove that the process followed by JPL (which undoubtedly applied to all of it’s positions) was a giant cover to get rid of Coppedge. I sure don’t recall reading any of the deposition transcripts that documented such a conspiracy. Where are Becker’s inside witnesses? The fact is, JPL has a lot of leeway in selecting people for lay-off, and unless there is a pattern (laying off only members of a specific group), it is nearly impossible to prove that a specific individual was wrongfully selected.

    I’m willing to bet that the majority of people laid off with Coppedge were “evolutionists”. Where’s the justice for persecuted evolutionists?

  3. That means proving that he was more qualified than someone else who was retained, and thus was wrongfully selected for lay-off.

    My experience with layoffs is that qualifications seldom have anything to do with it. In an Ideal World, perhaps, but not in the oil industry!

    Walt, a highly regarded PhD, expounded in a staff meeting that his boss wasn’t technically qualified to evaluate his work! Six months later Walt and four other “low performers” were laid off. Walt’s boss was not directly involved in the layoff selection, it came from higher up, but undoubtedly boss man had some influence and more importantly didn’t do anything to prevent Walt’s exit.

    One of my supervisors put it succinctly, “There’s not a lot I can do to you but there’s a lot I can not do to you.”

    Unfortunately for Becker, all the actual documentation supports Coppedge’s supervisors in trying to work with, coach and counsel his interpersonal weaknesses. Soon we’ll find out if the judge saw it the same way.

  4. Doc Bill said:

    Nor can you comment about a person’s appearance, habits, religion, age, gender and a whole list of things.

    Actually, you can on the first two so long as it is making a negative impact on your work or workplace. Case in point: There used to be a guy working in my branch who refused to bathe. To say he stunk would be an understatement. Several (okay, all) of his office mates complained. (I was fortunate; I worked in a different office down the hall.) His supervisor had to call this guy into the supervisor’s office and inform him that he smelled. I won’t go into the back and forth that occurred (the guy argued it was not a medical condition that prevented him from bathing, it was simply his right not to bathe), to which the supervisor & HR finally intervened and informed him, you’re correct. You don’t have to bathe. But you do have to figure out how to not smell. The only course of action was that he wound up bathing.
    All of this, as you can imagine, was documented. If the guy had claimed religion prevented him from bathing, perhaps HR would have had to use a different tack. I don’t know. But if you are creating a problem in the workplace, regardless of the reason, something will have to give.

  5. Jack Hogan

    Doc Bill said:

    Hopefully, the judge is experienced enough to see through Becker’s smoke and toss this meritless case into File 13 where it belongs.

    A couple of weeks ago I did a bit of google research on the judge.

    He has presided over several job dismissal/discrimination cases that made their way to newsprint. Presumably he’s one of the judges who get such cases. My impression was that probably the only thing about the case he is unfamiliar with is the ID/creationism angle.

    Didn’t save any links, sorry.

  6. Ah, the old stink co-worker or, perhaps, cow-orker. We had one of those, too. Turns out deodorants gave him a rash so all he used was Johnson’s baby powder. Smelled like something died in the Baby Care aisle at the supermarket. As a supervisor I could not write in his annual evaluation “Dead skunk in the middle of the road, stinking to high heaven!” as much as I was tempted.

    However, his office mates would leave cosmetic samples on his desk. I don’t recall if we just got used to it or if there was a clean-up on Aisle 5.

    Another co-worker who was morbidly obese would introduce himself as Fat Sam. “Hi, I’m Fat Sam!” He’d sign his documents “Fat Sam” and his userid was fat_sam. His real name was something like Jefferson Samuel Whitherstone III, so maybe Fat Sam was understandable.

    Old Coppy baby trying to play the persecution card at a place like JPL which seems like a normal workplace should be a tough sell.

  7. retiredsciguy

    Doc Bill:

    “Turns out deodorants gave him a rash so all he used was Johnson’s baby powder. Smelled like something died in the Baby Care aisle at the supermarket.”

    Having learned from Gary’s unfortunate experiences with keyboards, I am very cautious now about drinking anything while reading posts from you or Tomato Addict. Your quote is a prime example.

  8. retiredsciguy

    I should add that I’m working on a laptop, so a reverse nasal spray would be much more expensive than merely replacing a keyboard.

  9. retiredsciguy

    Well, here it is, a day later, and that line still makes me laugh! Nice work, Doc!

  10. This is C1. Apparently I was kicked off the discussion. So now I am dead and called the pallbearer. I am no sure what rule I violated but I apologize. Its kind of ironic because I don’t think the entire “expelled” thing is something to defend by creationists. I think it is dumb to hide behind victimization…but then I get expelled from the list. Oh well. Thanks for the discussion Doc Bill, and Tomato and Ed and others.
    C1 the dead.

  11. thanks also to retired guy

  12. Spector567

    From what I know and others can respond better. You were “expelled” for going off topic. The forum operator appeartently does not like his threads being hyjacked for random creationist talking points. something I can appreaciate because EVERY single thread i’ve ever entered into with a creationists taken off topic thus ruining the conversation for everyone.

    You might get banned again since you just created an alt something that is also frowned on in most forums. However, i’m new as well here so I could be wrong. You might be able to beg the forum operators forgiviness.

  13. pallbearer

    O.k. understood. I will stay off.

  14. Spector567 says: “You might get banned again”

    Count on it.