LOS ANGELES – David Coppedge, a former computer specialist with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, spent much of his free time advocating for the idea that a higher intelligence must have had a hand in creation. Now, a judge will decide if his commitment to that belief has also cost him his job.
Closing arguments in Coppedge’s wrongful termination lawsuit against the Pasadena-based JPL begin Monday after a five-week trial that has generated intense interest among proponents of the idea that life is too complex to have evolved through evolution alone. The case will be decided by Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Ernest Hiroshige because both sides agreed to forgo a jury.
Coppedge, who worked on NASA’s Cassini mission exploring Saturn and its many moons, claims he was demoted – and then let go – for promoting his views on intelligent design. The former “team lead” alleges that he was discriminated against because he engaged his co-workers in conversations about the idea and handed out DVDs on the topic while at work.
Coppedge lost his “team lead” title in 2009 and was let go last year after 15 years on the mission.
JPL denies the claims. In court papers, lawyers for the California Institute of Technology, which manages JPL for NASA, have said Coppedge received a written warning because his co-workers complained of harassment. They also said Coppedge lost his “team lead” status because of ongoing conflicts with others.
Caltech lawyers contend Coppedge was one of two Cassini technicians and among 246 JPL employees let go last year due to planned budget cuts.
Coppedge, who began working for JPL as a contractor in 1996 and was hired in 2003, is active in the intelligent design sphere and runs a website that interprets scientific discoveries through the lens of intelligent design. His father authored an anti-evolution book and founded a Christian outreach group.
He is also a board member for Illustra Media, a company that produces video documentaries examining the scientific evidence for intelligent design. The company produces the videos that Coppedge was handing out to co-workers, said Becker, his attorney.
His main duties at JPL were to maintain computer networks and troubleshoot technical problems for the mission. In 2000, he was named “team lead,” serving as a liaison between technicians and managers for nearly a decade before being demoted in 2009.
He sued in April 2010 alleging religious discrimination, retaliation and harassment and amended his suit to include wrongful termination after losing his job last year.
Coppedge is seeking attorney’s fees and costs, damages for wrongful termination and a statement from the judge that his rights were violated.