Former JPL worker David Coppedge, left, and William Becker appear in court… (Cheryl A. Guerrero / Staff…)
A man claiming he lost his job at Jet Propulsion Laboratory because he voiced support for the theory of intelligent design of the universe is seeking $1.36 million from the NASA lab, according to court papers filed as the case winds down.
David Coppedge, a former lead systems administrator on the Cassini project to Saturn, is seeking $860,000 for lost wages and $500,000 for emotional distress damages. At trial in March and April, attorneys for Coppedge claimed his discussions of intelligent design with co-workers led to discipline that improperly curtailed his speech rights and amounted to religious discrimination.
JPL attorneys, in a final round of briefs filed to Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Ernest Hiroshige in May, say Coppedge was a problem employee who failed to prove his case at trial and is entitled to no compensation.
Hiroshige is expected to issue a ruling by June 8.
Coppedge's lawyer, William Becker, submitted a brief on May 8 reiterating the themes Coppedge touched on in his testimony: Starting with a March 2009 meeting when Coppedge's supervisor, Greg Chin, told him to stop pushing his religion on his co-workers, the systems analyst was subject to a series of discriminatory actions.
These actions include receiving a written warning about discussing religious beliefs with co-workers, being replaced as the administrative lead of the Cassini mission, receiving a negative employee evaluation in 2010 and ultimately being laid off.
“JPL failed to produce any credible or direct documentary evidence that its actions were connected to Coppedge’s ‘customer’ interactions at all,” Becker wrote.
Coppedge worked for JPL for 15 years, and was let go in a year that budget cuts prompted the La Cañada Flintridge laboratory to cut 200 administrative positions.
In the brief filed May 29, JPL attorneys describe Coppedge as an aggressive and “often rambling” witness who was demoted and then let go because of his job performance and an “ongoing interpersonal skills problem.”
“Caltech [which oversees operations at JPL] laid off Coppedge because of his relative lack of skills, and for no other reason,” the brief from JPL attorney Cameron Fox states.
The brief references testimony from several former co-workers and transcripts of Coppedge's employee evaluations, both of which paint a picture of years of accumulating complaints about Coppedge.
JPL lawyers argue that even if Coppedge is found to have been wrongfully terminated, the appropriate estimate for lost pay damages would be $163,00 to $212,000.