David Coppedge, who was laid off from JPL in La Canada Flintridge last year, claims his termination was motivated largely by his belief in intelligent design, and his distribution of documentary DVDs on the subject in the workplace. The theory states that the complexity and order apparent in the universe points to the intervention of an intelligence, rather than the forces of nature and chance alone.The NCSE has been following this case and has put up their own page of documentation here. Interestingly, the defense case seems to rest on two things: there was a 50% cut in funding in FY 2011 for the Cassini project so that layoffs were inevitable and that David Coppedge was very hard to get along with so that when the layoffs did occur, he was not exactly a moving target. The court recorder quotes Gregory Chin:
The aerospace company has denied wrongdoing. Coppedge's termination took place during a time when the Cassini program -- a spacecraft mission to Saturn which Coppedge worked to support -- saw about a third of it's employees laid off.
Chin received complaints from twenty five different managers about Coppedge's uncooperative attitude and poor interpersonal skillsThe complaint goes on to list a large number of people who either were frustrated with or chose not to work with Coppedge. As someone who has worked with a coworker who doesn't listen to what you say or to anyone else around them, I can tell you that this makes for an extremely tense and frustrating work environment. This is doubly so if this person is (as was in my case) someone that you have to interact with on a daily basis.
...“Now you used the word “Personality issues”...what didn't they like about it?”
“His personality in terms of they did not like working with him. They felt he was insincere. They would talk to him. They would believe they would not listen to them and has already formed an opinion about what he is going to do and just ignore them. He was pleasant but they felt he was being insincere about it. And I guess that annoyed them.”
What further comes out in this transcript is that program management had come to Chin and asked that Coppedge be removed from the project:
Q: He said it would be best to get rid of David? A: I cannot be sure of those exact words, but I am paraphrasing. He said “What can we do to get David off Cassini?”Critical to this testimony is that these conversations took place in the early 2000s and that one of his supervisors, Clark Burgess specifically protected him at the time. When the workforce downsized, and, as they put it, jobs became tight, there was talk of moving him on to other projects. The complaints about his intelligent design support did not appear until 2009. Whether or not he was obnoxious regarding those, if we are to believe the transcripts, there certainly was ample reason to let him go when the money got tight.
David Klinghoffer, of the Discovery Institute, has written on the subject here. Klinghoffer thinks that the case is about the wrong things. He writes:
Klinghoffer remarks that it is very peculiar that, in all of these criticisms about Coppedge’s conduct, no official records were kept. He writes:
The LA Times writer is referring to Judge Hiroshige's decision not to hear from a legal scholar (not a religion expert) on the larger context of anti-ID discrimination in academia. Crucially, no one but no one on either side is asking the judge to rule on the scientific status of intelligent design. JPL's legal team and Coppedge's lawyer William Becker have cast the trial very clearly as an employment discrimination case.
In the conclusion of his statement, Becker underlined that it's all about "an employee who was treated differently because of his interest in intelligent design; who acted in a manner he thought was appropriate to protect his rights and his job, and for just that reason his job was taken away from him." (You may wish to check the final transcript for the precise quote.)
Oddly, though, none of this appears ever to have been documented contemporaneously by any of these folks, in a workplace that was otherwise very good about putting such matters down in writing. Not in reports, emails, written complaints, nothing.This is not odd, however, if you read the testimony, in which it is noted:
Burgess did not document many criticisms in Coppedge's annual performance to maximize Coppedge's chance to transfer to another project.Burgess states:
“Part of the transfer scenario that I imagined would be—one thing that would be involved in that would be the review of the documents by his prospective new customer and I didn't want to put too much negativity into the ECAPS.”The testimony then continues and it records that they were trying to protect Coppedge against further, documented complaints and had even bandied around the idea of terminating him long before the ID charge surfaced in 2009. Coppedge was even advised not to continue with this particular line of conversation with his fellow employees because, in concert with the preceding problems, he was told that it would not go well for him.
Damagingly, however, Chin admits he yelled at Coppedge and created a “hostile work environment” for him. He also called Intelligent Design religion and that he was not to promote his religion in the workplace. This gave Coppedge the ammunition that he needed for the lawsuit. That does not negate the problems that JPL had with Coppedge, however.
Klinghoffer ends his article by writing:
The real question before Judge Hiroshige comes down this: Who is David Coppedge? The Coppedge that JPL depicts seems completely at odds with the Coppedge that I've come to know slightly since coming down here to Southern California and that other people tell me about. The idea that this guy could "harass" anyone is just not credible to me at the moment.Maybe, but even if the harassment charge doesn't hold water, it doesn't mean that he was a good employee or easy to work with. JPL's defense focused on the actual problem: that Coppedge was too hard to get along with, not the Intelligent Design ruse that the Discovery Institute and Coppedge are foisting in an effort to cry wrongful termination.
When the money got tight and layoffs had to happen, JPL did what any good business would: they let go of what they considered to be a problem.
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