How much are you willing to lose to defend freedom or oppose injustice? Jesus spoke of “counting the cost” before setting out to do battle. It’s something I had to think about very hard before taking on JPL for violating my rights and freedoms. It was going to be a “David vs Goliath” contest, with no assurance I would be as victorious as my Biblical namesake.
As it was, I did lose, and it cost me dearly. Five years ago today, I lost my job, and three years ago this month, I lost the case. Knowing what I know now, would I have done it again? Should I have done it in the first place?
Let me say at the outset that I am not complaining. The Lord's grace has been abundant since the trial ended. Even though I am only earning about a quarter of what I made at JPL, I have a small house, a good car, enough food, and I have the ability to earn a living, even with cancer. Coincidentally (and I believe this was providential), my last mortgage payment was made one month before I was fired. With that large expense done, I am able to pay my monthly bills with a slight margin, not enough to save for major purchases, but enough to get by. Now, I can work from home on things I enjoy and consider worthwhile. So far my health is good with the monthly treatments I get, and I have many friends and family members who keep me encouraged. Life is good. God is good. I am very thankful!
Nevertheless, anybody considering taking a stand needs to consider the possible downside, materially speaking. Spiritually, of course, one can always be reassured that God’s ultimate will is done even through suffering. Many people far more deserving of justice have suffered far worse. I got just a taste of suffering when within six days I lost the case and got diagnosed with cancer.
I remember back in April 2009 when I first contacted ADF and spoke with Bill Becker, my lawyer. I wanted to know what this could cost me. As we prepared to sign a contract, Bill reassured me that he was taking this case on contingency (pro bono), so I would not have to pay for his services unless I broke contract with him.
Also, we had reason to believe ADF would fund the case. A multitude of others encouraged me to move forward, agreeing this was a worthy cause. I don’t think either of us at the time knew what to expect. Meanwhile, Bill assured me that JPL would probably not risk firing me while litigation was pending. That would be evidence for a wrongful termination claim.
But they did fire me — over a year before the court trial began. It was January 24, 2011. The Deputy Section Manager appeared at my cubicle as I was busily at work. He called me to an empty office, and gave me a little time to gather my things. They had already blocked my computer access. I was taken out the door, and driven to my car. No going-away party for me; ha! They had even cleared the floor so that I could not say good-bye to anyone.
Before that grim day, I was earning a six-figure salary. At my previous job as an operations manager, I had reached an annual salary of $60,000 with benefits. When I first came to JPL in 1996, I was offered $72,000 by a company contracting IT employees for the lab. Each subsequent year I received hefty raises without ever asking for them. When I transitioned to JPL employee status in 2003, I received another significant raise. Each year the pay continued to climb—a fact that stands against the portrayal by JPL’s lawyers that I was a poor or mediocre worker who didn't get along with people. The only years I didn’t get a substantial raise was when nobody at the lab got one, because of the 2009 financial crisis and its aftermath. My final pay rate was almost $125,000 plus benefits worth perhaps $30,000 more: health care, life insurance, accident insurance, sick leave, and 4 weeks paid vacation. One of the most significant benefits in my final years was 12% matching on my contributions to my IRA—very high compared to industry standards. Suffering a headache in the courthouse
That all came to a screeching halt the day I was let go. JPL gave me $30,000 separation pay (typical for anyone laid off with my length of service), and from then on, I was on my own, too busy to find a job elsewhere because of the intense work with Bill on the case. It’s kind of laughable to me that JPL’s lawyers argued to the judge that I was not seriously looking for work, therefore did not receive compensation if I were to win.
There was just no way. Having no staff, Bill relied on me for the equivalent of a full-time job as we prepared for trial. Plus, I was sick with cancer and didn’t know it. I also had debilitating headaches almost every day without knowing the cause. Several times during trial we had to take breaks until I got well enough to continue.
Bill hired an expert witness who calculated my losses at $860,238, because I was planning to work until the end of Cassini’s mission in 2017. Six years of lost salary alone is $750,000, but then there were the matching contributions to my IRA that ceased, the health insurance, and the other benefits. Actual losses would have to deduct what I’ve earned since the layoff, but health care costs rose substantially. I had to find a private health insurance plan a year later when the COBRA benefits expired. In 2015 my premiums were over $1,000 a month out of pocket (thank you, “Affordable Care Act”). JPL would have paid most of my insurance and my cancer treatments as well as providing sick leave or short term disability while I recovered. Los Angeles Superior Courthouse
Then there were other costs I haven’t disclosed till now.
In October of 2011, right after the judge had given his tentative ruling on Summary Judgment, indicating he was inclined to throw out our case, I took Bill to lunch with a heavy heart. I told him how bad I felt that his one-and-a-half years’ worth of work to date appeared to be down the drain. I offered him $50,000 out of my retirement savings as a token of friendship and support, knowing he deserved far more for his professional expertise and devotion to the work. He was grateful and hesitant to take it, but I insisted.
That gift, however, didn’t do him any good. Shortly afterward, the judge reversed himself on Summary Judgment. We had a case! The next thing Bill and I learned was how many fees a plaintiff must pay for his day in court. Those fees quickly ate up the $50,000 and then some (so much for “equal justice under the law.”). We were both scrambling to pay for this fee and that. ADF helped out with three grants, totaling about $30,000, but the rest we had to pay out of our own pockets. A main reason we opted for a bench trial instead of a jury trial was that we couldn’t afford the extra cost; jury members must be paid, and that comes out of the plaintiff's pocket. Paying 14 jurors for 5 weeks would have been substantial. As it was, Bill and I were both pouring money into this effort. We believed in our case, and hoped that a victory would reimburse us. Bill was fresh from his large settlement in the AFA vs California Science Center case, and may have felt a bit overconfident he could win this one, at least on some of the 10 counts.
The outcome knocked our breath away. The judge ruled against us on all counts without explanation. Then, already depressed with the news of my cancer diagnosis 6 days earlier, I was threatened with having to pay JPL’s court costs to the tune of $51,000 on top of everything else. I felt like a wounded warrior being kicked on the ground. I felt equally bad for Bill, having received no compensation for nearly three years of hard, stressful work.
In the days of deciding whether to appeal, I drove to ADF’s headquarters in Arizona to ask the advice of their lead attorneys. They were very kind and understanding, but strongly advised against appealing. Bill was raring to go, but grew to agree, after many discussions with ADF and other trusted lawyers, that it was probably unlikely to succeed under the best of circumstances. And with me facing major cancer surgery within weeks, the best possible outcome, they said, was to settle with JPL not to charge me for their court costs if we would agree not to appeal. So, reluctantly, that’s what I did. I signed away any right to carry the case forward. This also ended Bill’s last chance to be compensated for his legal work.
Before going in for surgery, I wanted to express my appreciation to ADF, too, for supporting the case. I thought of all their donors that had given faithfully small amounts for years. In my case, their gifts ended up supporting a loss. A long-time supporter of ADF myself, I couldn’t repay $30,000, but I offered what I could, $10,000, as a one-time donation from my retirement savings, as a token of my appreciation. Someday I hope I can give them more.
I wish I could pay all those who worked so hard on this case, especially Bill Becker. Right now, though, I’m just covering my living expenses, even after having pared back spending significantly (e.g., no TV, rarely eating out, keeping lights off, etc.) Most of my earned income goes to medical insurance and doctor bills, which cost me over $21,000 last year out of pocket. I’m sure my accusers and teammates on Cassini, though, are living well.
In short, you can see that I took a very significant financial hit for my stand. It’s hard to quantify, but $800,000 to a million dollars could be defended as a reasonable figure for my personal financial losses from the case. That’s much more than the total retirement income I have left after almost 40 years of full-time work since college. The fact that Cassini is still flying well and is expected to end on schedule in 2017 means I would probably still be at JPL working the mission till then, considering that I was the Team Lead with the most tenure and experience. My demotion and layoff would never have occurred, I believe, except for the discrimination and retaliation mounted against me for the high crime and misdemeanor of sharing DVDs on intelligent design with co-workers. After returning home from the hospital
I realize that some readers may wish they could trade places with me financially. This is a hard time for many people. Again, let me stress I am content with God and his grace. I haven’t shed blood like many of my Christian brethren in the Middle East. I still have my head attached to my neck. I have a good amount of health. I have shelter, food and clothing that is adequate. In addition, I have even more opportunities now to share the message of creation, intelligent design and the gospel than before. I’m joyful and grateful for my present circumstances. I never asked for a high salary or wealth, so I can't complain when it evaporated. I just wanted to be financially responsible so as not to be a burden on anyone in my senior years. We must all work hard, but trust the Lord for our sustenance. The Lord gives; the Lord takes away; blessed be the name of the Lord!
The losses I have described above are directly attributable to taking a stand against JPL's discrimination. Would I have made the same decision now, knowing now that it was going to cost nearly a million dollars? It’s a hard question, but several things give me hope that it was worth it.
"The fact is, and you can quote me, you are the rare individual courageous enough to fight to vindicate your rights. I know other people who would, but many more who would rather preserve their secure but unhappy circumstances." — Bill Becker, Jan 8, 2016.
- For one, I probably would have been laid off anyway over the DVD matter without ever learning about JPL’s schemes. Court testimony showed that Chin and Mitchell heard gossip about my DVD lending and were upset about it.
- Secondly, I’ve learned many important lessons about our legal system, about life and my relationship with God through these experiences.
- Third, I know there are many Christians around the world who were encouraged by my stand in spite of the unhappy ending.
- Fourth, my trial brought together exceptional legal expertise and prayer support from around the world that was amazing to see.
- Fifth, “intelligent design” made global headlines through this case. Even among my detractors, I suspect there were many who sympathized with my situation. I can hear them whispering, “He lost his job over that?”
- And lastly, I’ve seen that God is able to do exceeding abundantly above all we ask or think if we stand true to Him, even if it costs in material terms. My church and various friends pitched in to help me financially when I was under the most strain. Opportunities came to me. I've bounced back and enjoy every new morning.
Tony Perkins of Family Research Council ends his daily podcasts with the challenge of the Apostle Paul in Ephesians 6: “When you’ve done all that you can do, by all means, keep standing.
” Paul knew what it feels like to be knocked down, but not knocked out. I hope my experience will encourage others to stand for the right no matter the cost. Sooner or later, I believe, someone is going to win a substantial case against Darwinian bigotry. The case of Martin Gaskell
and Bill Becker's hefty settlement in the AFA case
against the California Science Center have put them on notice that discrimination against those who support intelligent design can be costly.
P.S. Bill Becker and I both appreciate your ongoing prayers and support. Please read my science news service Creation-Evolution Headlines
, and buy Illustra Media
’s great films. Consider becoming a regular donor to Bill Becker's FreedomX non-profit 501(c)(3) public policy law firm where he continues the fight for Freedom of “X”pression wherever injustice threatens our precious liberties.