The Intelligent Design Suit-Scopes Monkey Round 2, or Just Another Employment Suit?
Employment lawsuits alleging discrimination are common. But few have generated the publicity of David Coppedge’s suit against the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL). The facts of the case are fascinating, and the legal theories set forth in it are rare. The common misperception is that Coppedge was fired for his beliefs. Not true! The case is not alleging wrongful termination, but wrongful demotion.
Mr. Coppedge was the Team Lead System Administrator on JPL’s mind blowing Cassini mission to Saturn. The suit alleges that JPL is managed, for NASA, by the California Institute of Technology, which is also named as a defendant in the suit.
The suit claims that Coppedge was “charged with violating his employer’s anti-harassment and ethics policies by promoting his religious views while discussing” the theory of Intelligent Design with co-workers. He was allegedly ordered, under the threat of termination, not to discuss ID, politics or religion. He claims that he has complied, but has nonetheless been stripped of his team leadership position, constrained in his ability to discuss his views and “kept a prisoner of JPL’s systemic ideological culture”.
A common initial reaction to the scenario is to say, “Wait a minute, he is still working there and has not been fired. How can he sue?” The answer lies in the causes of action alleged by his attorneys. Specifically, they allege:
Religious Discrimination and Retaliation—Coppedge claims that the Defendants violated the Fair Employment and Housing Act by discriminating (by demotion) against him based upon his “religion”. Certainly a point of argument in the case will be whether Intelligent Design is a “religion” subject to the protections of the Act.
Violation of California’s Constitution–Coppedge claims that the Defendants harassed him by engaging in a scheme to suppress his rights to engage in protected speech.
Wrongful demotion, in violation of California’s Government Code and Constitution.
In the weeks to follow, I will discuss the Defendants’ responses to the claims, and the issues being presented to the court.