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JPL lawsuit: Ex-worker says double standard stymied free speech

March 19, 2012

Former Jet Propulsion Laboratory employee David Coppedge testified Monday that other employees at the facility displayed political and religious materials in the workplace, even after he was told to stop discussing “intelligent design” or Proposition 8, the ban on gay marriage.

Coppedge’s testimony came in the second week of a trial in his lawsuit claiming he was wrongfully terminated and JPL discriminated against him because he advocated for the theory of intelligent design, which holds that God guided the creation and evolution of the universe.

Coppedge had been a systems analyst on the Cassini project, which is gathering data about Saturn.

Attorneys for JPL deny the claims and say several employees complained to supervisors about difficulties working with Coppedge before he was demoted and then let go. The NASA research facility laid off roughly 200 employees in 2011 due to budget constraints.

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On Monday, Coppedge showed photographs he had taken one month after an April 2009 meeting in which he said he was told not to talk about religion or politics with coworkers. The photographs, displayed in court, showed the “Darwin Fish,” which Coppedge described as a “corruption of a well-known Christian symbol,” posted on a scientist's office door.

Coppedge also showed pictures of “Doonesbury” and “This Modern World” comics that had been posted on the door of a Cassini project scientist's office. Both comics compared intelligent design advocates to “flat earthers” and other pseudoscience advocates.

Coppedge said he took photos of these cartoons to document that other employees were being allowed to express themselves while he wasn’t.

Earlier in the day, Coppedge testified that his employee evaluations had been “excellent” up until 2009. After that point, Coppedge for the first time received negative feedback on his evaluations.

Coppedge is the first witness to take the stand in the case, which is being tried before Los Angeles County Superior Court Ernest Hiroshige without a jury. Some of his former co-workers are expected to take the stand later in the trial.

-- Daniel Siegal, Times Community News

Twitter: @ValleySunDan

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