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Creationism in job discrimination case

"A Los Angeles Superior Court judge has opted to let a jury decide whether NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory discriminated against a former employee who claims he was fired for discussing intelligent design," according to the Pasadena Star-News (November 30, 2011). The initial complaint, filed on April 11, 2010, alleged that JPL discriminated against and unfairly demoted David Coppedge because of his discussion of "intelligent design" as well as religious and political issues in the workplace. After Coppedge was laid off from his job in January 2011, the complaint was amended to add a claim of wrongful termination, although JPL replied that Coppedge was laid off as part of a natural attrition.

The Star-News described Coppedge as "[a] well-known figure among proponents of 'intelligent design'" and noted that he operates the Creation-Evolution Headlines website, but overlooked the fact that he is on the board of Illustra Media, which produces "intelligent design" films such as Unlocking the Mystery of Life, The Privileged Planet, and Darwin's Dilemma. It was, in part, Coppedge's distribution of such films to his coworkers that prompted JPL to take disciplinary action against him. Coppedge's attorney, William J. Becker Jr., represented the American Freedom Alliance in its recent suit against the California Science Center over the cancellation of a screening of Darwin's Dilemma.

With the judge's decision to allow the case to go to trial, a spokesperson for JPL told the Star-News, "The suit is completely without merit, and we intend to vigorously fight the allegations raised by Mr. Coppedge." Shortly after the filing of the suit, Gary Williams, a professor of law at Loyola University, told the Star-News (April 18, 2010) that Coppedge's prospects for success were dim: "If an employee is talking about anything in the workplace that is not related to work, the employer is entitled to say that 'I don't want you to do this,'" Williams said. "You're not protected." The trial is expected to begin on March 7, 2012. Documents from the case, David Coppedge v. Jet Propulsion Laboratory et al., are available on NCSE's website.

Updated on December 5, 2011, to correct the expected trial date.