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Ex-NASA worker: Firing was over intelligent design

Associated Press Modified: April 16, 2012 at 8:45 pm •  Published: April 16, 2012
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LOS ANGELES (AP) — A former computer specialist with NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory was laid off because he was combative and didn't keep his skills sharp — not because he advocated for his belief in intelligent design while at work, an attorney said Monday in a case that plays on the tensions over the origins-of-life concept.

David Coppedge, who worked on NASA's Cassini mission exploring Saturn and its many moons, sued JPL for wrongful termination in a case that has generated intense interest among proponents of intelligent design — the idea that life is too complex to have evolved through evolution alone.

Closing arguments ended Monday after a five-week trial. The case will be decided by Superior Court Judge Ernest Hiroshige, who must first review written arguments from both sides and could take months before announcing a verdict.

Both sides agreed to forgo a jury.

Coppedge, a self-described evangelical Christian, claims he was demoted then let go for engaging his co-workers in conversations about intelligent design and handing out DVDs on the topic while at work. Coppedge lost his team leader title in 2009 and was let go last year after 15 years on the mission.

Coppedge was a stubborn and disconnected employee who decided not to heed warnings to get additional training, even when it became clear the Cassini mission would be downsized and computer specialist positions eliminated, defense attorney Cameron Fox said.

He often was confrontational and insensitive to customers and colleagues, she said.

"The testimony has shown a stark difference between the way Mr. Coppedge thought he was perceived and how others perceived him. We've heard testimony from David Coppedge's managers ... that he was stubborn and he didn't listen," Fox said.

"What happened to David Coppedge — really what David Coppedge did to himself — had nothing to do with intelligent design or religion but with his own stubbornness."

That interpretation differs dramatically from Coppedge's version of events. His attorney, William Becker, said in closing arguments that Coppedge was told by a supervisor to "stop pushing your religion" and then retaliated against for disputing a written warning and filing a lawsuit against JPL.

The supervisor who made the comment claimed he was trying to help Coppedge after a colleague made a formal complaint about his advocacy for intelligent design, but Becker said the statement smacked of religious intolerance.

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