An amended complaint was filed Monday in a lawsuit against a NASA laboratory in California on behalf of an employee who was demoted for discussing his beliefs about intelligent design.
Since his demotion last year, David Coppedge, who had served as a "team lead" technical specialist on Jet Propulsion Laboratory's Cassini mission to Saturn, has been "stigmatized in such a way that career advancement opportunities have been foreclosed to him," the complaint reads.
Last March, Coppedge was accused of "pushing religion" on his co-workers after he began engaging colleagues in conversations about intelligent design – a theory that life and the existence of the universe derive not from undirected material processes but from an intelligent cause – and offering DVDs on the subject when the co-worker expressed interest.
His supervisor, Gregory Chin, allegedly received complaints from employees and threatened the long-time employee with termination if he persisted with his intelligent design discussions.
Coppedge said he would comply with the orders not to discuss the theory, politics or religion in the office but felt his constitutional rights were violated.
He later received a "written warning" which stated that his actions were harassing in nature and created a disruption in the workplace. Thereafter, he was removed from the team lead position in order to "lessen the strife" in the work area. His demotion was announced on a memo that was distributed on April 20, 2009.
According to the amended complaint, Coppedge said he was never told by a co-worker that his discussion of intelligent design was unwelcome or disruptive to their work. He was offered no specific details of the charges allegedly made by other co-workers.
Since the incident, Coppedge continues to suffer embarrassment, emotional distress, humiliation, indignity, apprehension, fear, ordeal and mental anguish, the complaint states. Specifically, he has remained constrained in his ability to express his personal views and has been "kept a prisoner of JPL's systemic ideological culture." The JPL employee also "endures each working day under a cloud of suspicion and a threat of termination lest he say anything by which someone might take offense."
Coppedge’s attorney, William J. Becker, Jr., who is part of the Alliance Defense Fund, argues, "Discussing the origins of the universe with willing co-workers is not punishable just because it doesn’t fit a prevailing view at JPL."
Becker further contends in the amended complaint that Coppedge suffered injustice and was deprived of his constitutional right to freely speak, write and publish his sentiments.
The written warning against Coppedge that was issued last April was expunged from his personnel file this year after his supervisors and manager revisited the matter. But he was not restored to the team lead position because the company continued to believe that his conduct in distributing the DVDs and advancing his views on intelligent design was inappropriate.
ADF Senior Counsel Joseph Infranco commented, "Mr. Coppedge has always maintained that ID is a scientific theory. Regardless, JPL has discriminated against him on the basis of what they deem is ‘religion.’ The only discussion allowed is what fits the agenda. Stray, and you are silenced and punished. It just doesn’t fit with JPL’s otherwise fine reputation in the industry."
The case is Coppedge v. Jet Propulsion Laboratory.