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Religious discrimination trial for ex-JPL worker starts

March 13, 2012
(Times Community…)

The judge in the trial of a former Jet Propulsion Laboratory employee who claims he was fired for his belief that God had a hand in shaping the universe will determine what’s dogma and what isn’t, not a religious expert.

David Coppedge, a former systems administration lead on NASA'sCassini mission to Saturn, claims he was unfairly terminated from his JPL job for discussing California's gay marriage ban initiative with colleagues and for giving them DVDs promoting intelligent design — the theory that life and the existence of the universe are best explained as the result of the influence of God or an intelligent agent.

In Los Angeles County Superior Court on Monday, his attorney had asked in pretrial motions to call an expert witness on intelligent design and whether it constitutes religious dogma.

Becker argued that while a former JPL colleague complained that Coppedge harassed her by giving her the DVDs, the discs do not contain any religious dogma -- evidence that Coppedge was a victim of discrimination because “they had already assumed or prejudged what their contents were.”

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"The only way this court is going to understand if he was rightly accused of something, religious harassment…is to look at the DVD," Becker said.

Although Superior Court Judge Ernest Hiroshige said he would allow Coppedge’s attorney, William Becker, to show the DVD in question, he denied his request to bring on a religion expert.

"I am quite able to make a decision based on the evidence and the legal standards," said Hiroshige, who will decide the case without empaneling a jury.

JPL denies Coppedge's claims. In 2011, the year Coppedge was let go, JPL laid off roughly 200 workers for budgetary reasons.

Opening statements in the case were scheduled to start today.

-- Daniel Siegal, daniel.siegal@latimes.com

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