In my cubicle 3 months before getting fired. This is where I had picked up HR's call.
The day after my boss's tirade about intelligent design
(3/3/09), I got a friendly call from a lady at Human Resources (HR). In hindsight, wow -- was I ever naive. I thought HR was trying to help me.
A lady with initials JH said that she had heard about a conversation with my boss, and wanted to talk to me about it. She gave no indication of her real purpose. I thought, great; she wants to help my boss and me reconcile. An appointment was set up for a couple of days later. She would hear my side, I presumed, then hear his side, and then help us work out an agreeable resolution. I was all for that. Let's come to an understanding and make peace, then proceed with our work.
Something about this appointment did raise my antennas, though, so I decided to come prepared to defend my sharing of DVDs on intelligent design. I gathered some "show and tell" material, including copies of the DVDs, my lending log
, and a statement describing my practice of sharing them: that it was infrequent, usually at the end of work before a weekend, and contained scientific (not religious) material of great interest to everyone. I also collected several statements by prominent scientists and philosophers that supported intelligent design (ID) as science. Then I made a long list of JPL press releases on evolution that made philosophical claims about the origin and fate of the universe, life and humanity that went far beyond any scientific evidence. I figured if JPL can talk about these subjects openly, I could, too--even if some people find it controversial or uncomfortable. The subject of origins should be fair game at JPL.
A trusted colleague also found a copy of a document called "Guidelines on Religious Expression in the Federal Workplace
" posted on another NASA center's website, along with "Questions and Answers: Religious Discrimination in the Workplace
". These were very interesting documents. I didn't believe ID was religious, of course, but since my boss did, he should have respected my right of expression. The guidelines seemed to clearly justify what I had done as within my rights--even to the point of "proselytizing" (however that is defined). For instance, it states:Many religions strongly encourage their adherents to spread the faith by persuasion and example at every opportunity, a duty that can extend to the adherents' workplace. As a general matter, proselytizing is entitled to the same constitutional protection as any other form of speech. Therefore, in the governmental workplace, proselytizing should not be singled out because of its content for harsher treatment than nonreligious expression. (Bold added.)
The guidelines, written in 1997 to clarify existing law, clearly err on the side of freedom of expression. Sharing a DVD about ID, therefore, even if deemed religious
, should have been protected activity. I want to discuss this document more later. It became a key focus of legal wrangling about whether JPL was obliged to follow these guidelines. (Note: I found that the NASA Glenn Research Center has since removed this document from their website. Was it because of my case?)
With Cassini managers, watching Saturn images arrive, June 30, 2004
So I came to the HR meeting prepared, I thought, to show that sharing DVDs on ID was within my rights. I was greeted by a middle-aged black lady with initials JH, who welcomed me into a small conference room. Once again, she only stated she had heard about the conversation with my boss and wanted to ask me some questions. Still under the impression this was a reconciliation meeting, I laid it all out on the table, talking with her for about an hour, showing my materials and describing what had happened. I offered her the chance to watch the DVDs and see whether they contained a religious message. She looked at them but did not take them. I showed her the lending log, my other papers, and explained clearly how I thought my boss had violated my civil rights by restricting my speech.
Mostly quiet and expressionless, JH dutifully took notes on a pad of paper and asked a few more questions. For instance, she wanted to know if I had ever talked to co-workers about politics. I racked my brain, and did think of some rare instances. A couple of times, I told her, I had looked up judges on the ballot and offered a few nearby co-workers information about them. They appreciated it, I said, because most people know nothing about judge candidates. I told her I had passed out a few flyers on California Proposition 8 (the marriage initiative now before the Supreme Court) before the 2008 election. I said I had one respectful conversation with a co-worker BE who disagreed with my position, but got into an argument with another co-worker SE when he started criticizing my position after I gave him the flyer and briefly described it. I told her how the next day I had returned to SE and apologized for allowing the discussion to become heated. even though it had been a mutual exchange, with neither of us making personal attacks or insults-- it was just a strong disagreement about the facts and arguments about the proposition. When I apologized, he spontaneously stood up and shook my hand. That should have been the end of it. I never brought up the subject with him since. That argument, I would later learn, became a key piece of evidence used against me.
Let this be a warning to all about answering questions truthfully. I learned this the hard way, especially in depositions. There are wise and foolish ways to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. If I had known that JH was investigating me on harassment charges, that would have changed the complexion of our meeting dramatically. I would have realized that I have the presumption of innocence, and the burden of proof was on HR to prove otherwise. Thinking that she was there to help me reconcile with my boss, being the transparent kind of guy I am, with nothing to hide, I volunteered all kinds of details about things unrelated to her questions. When you are being accused of something, realize that simple, truthful answers are all that is required. Let the investigator do the work. Answer: (1) Yes, (2) No, (3) I don't know, or (4) I don't remember. Answer only the amount of detail that is asked. If a question seems too probing, or you don't understand it, or it is vague or ambiguous, ask for clarification before answering it.
In front of my building, leading a JPL tour (2004)
At the end of the interview, I asked what would happen next. She said she would be talking to my boss and would get back to me. This was all fine and good, I felt; I was glad HR was helping resolve the dispute with my boss.Policies and Procedures
The next day, though, I started having some worries about that interview. I emailed JH and requested 3 things: (1) a copy of GC's account of the March 2 meeting, (2) a copy of the JPL "procedure for conflict resolution, of which yesterday's meeting was a part," and (3) a statement whether JPL follows the same Guidelines on Religious Expression that I had found on the NASA-Glenn website. She called back and said she couldn't give me GC's version
, but that she would get back to me on the others. Soon she emailed me the link to JPL's "Problem Resolution Policy," but said she would have to do further research on #3.
What happened next gave me real concern. I waited and waited, and still did not hear anything. A simple reconciliation between two parties should have been a quick process. Twelve days after the interview, I asked if she had any news for me. No response. I stopped in my group supervisor's office to see if he knew what was going on. He opened his eyes wide and said that JH was "talking to a lot of people about you." I was stunned. Something was going on that was bigger than I realized. When I asked for more information, I was informed that when JH finishes her investigation, I would find out.
I also noticed that my boss GC had been acting especially cool toward me. Perhaps that's understandable after his tirade, but I was still Team Lead and had to interact with him daily on work-related matters. It seemed that whenever I offered a suggestion, he would rebuff it with answers like, "Why do we need that?" I offered a tutorial on a technical subject for anyone interested but he disputed its value. Then I got my annual review on April 1, and noticed, for the first time, he had written several paragraphs of negative comments about my presumed inability to get along with people.
JPL has an extensive online library of Policies and Procedures called JPL Rules. On April 9, I decided to read the "Problem Resolution Policy" JH had sent and realized there was a serious misunderstanding. That policy was dependent on an employee filing a complaint. I wrote her,Thank you for the link to the "Problem Resolution" document #27052. I'm a little confused, though, after reading it. It seems to refer to grievances instigated by the employee. I never filed a grievance. As far as I know, this matter was elevated
to HR by [GC]. Are we working through the grievance process, or some other process? If it's this one, rm not sure what stage we are in. If you can help me out, I would appreciate it. Also, did you have a chance to find the answer to my earlier question #3?
Notice how I was very concerned about the process she was following. Way back on March 5, JH should have known that. I had asked for JPL's "procedure for conflict resolution, of which yesterday's meeting was a part
," making it clear I wanted to know what she
was doing; I figured something this important would have a documented procedure. She had sent me an unrelated document that had nothing to do with her activity! She made that very clear in a voice mail later that afternoon:Hi David, this is [JH]; I received your email this afternoon and I wanted to respond to you, that when you initially asked for a conflict resolution procedure, the only thing we have even similarly close to conflict resolution is Problem Resolution, which was given to you I believe by myself and also [WH] gave you the information as well, so as I have been told, but no; it does not have anything to do with the Investigation that has taken place based upon the issue that was brought to our attention by [GC]. So they're two totally separate things, and maybe I misread the email and got a little bit confused, but whatever the case may be, I wanted to clarify so there won't be any misunderstanding, that they are two totally separate
issues. If you have any further questions, by all means, give me a call. I'll be leaving in just a little bit from here and also, I believe you had another question; I'm not sure what it was, I don't have the email in front of me, but anywho, if you have any other questions give me a call back. Thanks, bye. (Bold added.)
This was the first time I heard HR use the word "investigation." I was being accused when I thought this was about reconciliation and defending my
civil rights. Notice how vague JH was: she mentioned "the investigation that has taken place" based on "the issue that was brought to our attention" by my boss. What issue? An investigation into what? I was never told I was being investigated for harassment--a serious charge! Notice also how she cared nothing about my civil rights. One would think a black person would appreciate the seriousness of that. Four times I had asked her if JPL abides by the Guidelines on Religious Expression, and here a month later she couldn't even remember the question!An Unusual Invitation
That morning (April 9), I had received an unusual meeting invitation from my Section Manager, KK. It was rare for me to see him at all, but a couple of years prior, we had hit it off well in a one-on-one "get acquainted" meeting when he came on board. I noticed he included his Deputy and my Group Supervisor in the meeting request for April 13. I accepted, but asked what it was regarding. He sent this evasive answer: "We're following up with you regarding your recent discussions with HR." This lit off sirens in my mind. I wanted to know what on earth was going on!Hello [KK]:
This meeting came up on short notice (one workday beforehand). I would like to ask It be delayed till I can review the documentation on the investigation because at this time (1) I have been given no specific information about what exactly this meeting is about, and (2) If there are some kind of charges or accusations being brought against me, I have not even been informed what they are, nor have I been given any JPL policies and procedures that cover these kinds of investigations. I cannot adequately prepare for a meeting about these matters If I do not even know this fundamental information that I feel I have a right to know.
In this regard, I have requested documentation of the procedures being followed In this investigation. I never received that information. I also asked (twice} whether the policies on the following NASA link apply at JPL, but never received an answer: [link]
If this meeting Is in fact about an investigation instigated by my office manager, it Involves a very sensitive Issue. I know you will want to ensure it is being conducted according to written policy and that the rights of an employee are being protected. Therefore I am again asklng three things be provided me before we meet together: (1) a written copy of the findings by HR, including any accusations being made against me and the evidence for them, (2) a written statement of the official JPL policy and procedure for investigating employees, of which this Investigation Is an example, and (3) copies of any and all JPL policies covering religious expression by employees at JPL. Upon receipt of this material and sufficient time to review it, I will be willing to reschedule the meeting. I would appreciate a response by email.
David F. Coppedge (Bold added.)
He left me a voice mail stating that "all these things would be supplied to me at the meeting." I agreed to come, but tried one last time to get some information:Hello KK,· .
Thank you for your call, but in reflecting on It, I still think that at least item #2 is a reasonable thing to have before the meeting: what is the process being followed? Surely there Is a written policy on investigating employees, perhaps on JPL Rules or somewhere, that can tell me what exactly is going on. Can.you just send me a !Ink to the document?
David F. Coppedge
No answer. With an HR investigation underway, a serious meeting coming up with management, and everyone giving me the runaround, it was time to call Alliance Defending Freedom.
In this episode, you've seen how this affair looked from my "naive" perspective, how I was kept in the dark, how I became increasingly suspicious. My suspicions were confirmed -- and then some -- when I found out how HR really works, policy/process be hanged. In the next episode, you will hear about what was going on in the background at HR, based on document discovery and oral testimony: blatant disregard for JPL's own written policies, and a complete lack of due process for the accused.
Lesson to the naive: HR does not exist to protect your rights. It exists to protect the institution and its management.
Overlooking the building (center, low structure) where I worked for 14 years.
This entry describes the absurd lengths to which lawyers and haters of intelligent design will go to make mountains out of molehills. It would be funny if not so tragic.
In the last entry (see "The Triggering Incident
") I described how my office manager, GC, went on a tirade against me for "pushing religion" by sharing an intelligent design DVD with a co-worker, MW. I described how, after that intense meeting, he went on a "pre-emptive strike" to protect himself, making sure the trouble would fall on me, not him. One of the first things he did was visit my group supervisor, the program manager, and the administrative assistant, a lady with initials CV. CV apparently told GC she was "not surprised" by the complaint from MW, because she felt I had an "agenda" about Christianity. A little background will show how incredible this charge is.The Agenda
I had met CV at least six years before the trouble began, and always had a cordial relationship with her. We didn't cross paths often, because she was on another floor. One of the first things she told me was that she was a Christian. I thought, great; we have something in common. We had a few discussions way back then about her testimony and beliefs. She freely volunteered information about her faith. I thought we had developed a friendship. A couple of years later (2005), I offered her a DVD of "The Privileged Planet". She liked it so much she bought a copy. Later that month, based on her response, I offered her "Unlocking the Mystery of Life" and she liked that, too. After that, I never approached her about DVDs again. During my whole time at JPL, CV never told me, ever, that she felt uncomfortable talking about religion
. Even up to the month before I was fired, we chatted easily, mostly on work-related matters: I remember doing a favor for her for which she thanked me. I remember being in a meeting when she leaned over and whispered something funny in my ear. Most of the "religious" conversations had been many years prior. Little did I know CV harbored a deep resentment against me and my beliefs. How could I? She never let on. Yet she testified at deposition and in court that she felt I had an "agenda" about Christianity. The Human Resources (HR) investigator dutifully recorded this opinion without inquiring why she felt that way or what facts
"Agenda" is a funny word. Depending on context, it can be benign or nasty. Who would run a board meeting without an agenda? Every time you make a shopping list, or a list of things to do today, you have an agenda. Pity the person who wanders through a day or week without a plan! But phrase it this way, "He has an agenda," and the tone turns dark and suspicious. True, there are people who use a position of power or privilege to work surreptitiously on nefarious plans, like activists who gain an elected seat to foment a revolution. I'm hardly that type! I was at JPL to work on a great mission of discovery, and work I did. My team ran a tight, secure, productive computer network whose value is measured by the spectacular success of the Cassini mission. I loved my job. On rare occasions, though, I did like to share my interest in intelligent design with co-workers I trusted and who trusted me. If that was an "agenda," so it was with a team member who showed his photo calendars to everyone he knew. So it was with many other co-workers who had no hesitation talking about politics, hobbies, or other non-work subjects freely during work hours. If you work in an office environment, you know what I mean. People talk about all kinds of things. There's nothing about intelligent design that should single it out for a ban.
Bill Becker in the courthouse with me
My attorney, Bill Becker, tried to find out from CV what my "agenda" was. Repeatedly during questioning, she couldn't remember. She just had a "feeling" that I was out to convert people, even though she couldn't provide any evidence to support it. After all, she had led me to believe she was a Christian! How could I be trying to convert someone who already was converted? Bill asked her point-blank at trial what my agenda was. CV said, "I didn't believe that he was trying to convert me, but I believe that if I wasn't, he would be judgmental and try to convert me to Christianity." Needless to say, that is a complete hypothetical backed up by no evidence whatsoever. Yet her subjective feelings, which had been hidden from me all those years, were allowed to influence the court that I somehow, some way, had an "agenda" that was making her feel harassed. We learned at deposition that CV's "Christianity" had shallow roots, because she had abandoned her faith in the intervening years. We also learned that she was a kindred spirit with MW.
The "Tracking Sheet"
I've always been a conscientious note-taker. In file cabinets at home, I still have notes from my high school and college classes. From my previous employment I have stacks of spiral notebooks detailing each day's accomplishments and assignments, interspersed with personal notes about what else was happening (earthquakes, historical events and the like). It should have been no surprise, therefore, that I had 37 notebooks filled with details about my 14-year career at JPL. (Most of them were taken by JPL's lawyers and photocopied as part of their "document discovery" so that they could dig for dirt.) To me, good notes are an extension of my memory, lest I leave tasks unfinished, or forget what was decided in a meeting. They provide a historical record of my life. We lose our personal histories if we don't write things down.
When I started lending out Illustra DVDs about 2002, after Unlocking the Mystery of Life had just come out, I didn't keep records at first, but by late 2004 I realized I needed a better way to know where the DVDs were. I only had a limited number. I didn't want to just give them away, because there would be no way to know if the recipients watched them. I figured my friends would be more likely to watch them if they knew I needed them back; plus, it would allow me an opportunity to find out whether my co-workers enjoyed them or not. If for any reason the person did not like them, I needed to know that. I didn't want to bother anyone ("harass" is way too strong a word). Keeping records aided my memory so I wouldn't inadvertently approach someone a second time who had anything less than a positive response. Additionally, I only approached co-workers with whom I already had a friendly relationship.
For anyone who still might think my DVD lending activity was out of line for some reason, recognize that it was rare. My biggest DVD lending year was 2005, just after The Privileged Planet came out (a perfect film for JPL, right on a topic of great interest at JPL: habitable planets and the origin of life). I lent out 62 DVDs that year (to 42 individuals), but keep in mind many of them were to fellow Christians and others I already knew liked them. After that, it was down to 18 in 2006, 8 in 2007, 12 in 2008, and just 4 in early 2009 before the trouble started. Often months would go by with no DVD lending at all. Considering that many of these encounters took only a minute of time, and were offered right before the weekend at the end of the work day, it amounted to a tiny fraction of time at the office, with no disruption of work. Fully 99.9% of the work year I was focused on doing my job.
Initially, I fastened a post-it note ("sticky note") to the back of a copy of Unlocking the Mystery of Life
(UMOL) with the names of friends I thought would be interested in watching it. The photo (Exhibit 62, but with surnames blurred) shows this early attempt at record-keeping. Nine names are shown, with two crossed out. (Detail: five of them were never given the DVD.)
This, I realized, was a poor way of keeping track, so in late 2004 (being a computer geek anyway) I decided an Excel spreadsheet would be better. I created a "lending library" spreadsheet for the DVDs. It had just 5 columns: DVD name, co-worker name, date loaned, date returned, and comments. Comments might include what the person said about the film, how it was returned, or anything indicating to me whether it was enjoyed or not.
With this method, I didn't have to rely on my fallible memory to know whether I had already lent the DVD to Joe or Sally. If they liked it, that was nice to know. If they didn't, I didn't want to approach them again.
Innocent enough? Not to JPL's HR investigators and lawyers it wasn't. This became a prime exhibit to allege I was on a campaign to push controversial topics during work hours. They called it a "tracking sheet" instead of a "lending log" (amazing how loaded words
can twist the emotional impact of something). It showed I had an agenda, and that I was persistently going after people, part of the definition of harassment. Never mind that my most-loaned DVD, The Privileged Planet
, was about planets and life--core concepts at JPL -- that the film featured four JPL scientists. No; to them intelligent design is religion, therefore I was pushing religion. They didn't even have to watch the DVDs to somehow "know" that.
Detail of the "Sticky Note"
The "Sticky Note"
GC's account of The Triggering Incident
mentioned that MW had told him I had a "list of individuals with whom he desired to talk to ... or follow-up with." In a bizarre twist of fate, MW just happened to get that old copy of Unlocking
that still had that years-old sticky note fastened on the back.
It was late in the day on the last day of the week, Feb 26, 2009. Some had left for the long weekend; others were finishing up business. I had just loaned another DVD to a Christian friend nearby, a lady who loved Illustra's films. The one she chose was endorsed out of a couple of choices by another Christian friend standing nearby who thought highly of the one she decided to take. I had gone back to my desk, put the extra DVDs in my drawer, and saw an opened copy of Unlocking
. Who among my co-workers nearby, I thought, had never seen it yet? MW came to mind, so I brought it with me to her cubicle a few paces away in an encounter that was to have fateful consequences.
MW and I were always cordial to each other, so this seemed perfectly natural for me, being as it was time to go home anyway. I figured if she were interested she could take it home to watch it. It was never intended to disrupt work. MW was not the kind of lady I would have selected as a friend; I did not find her particularly attractive in looks or personality, but she was generally nice, and I was always nice to her. Bill Becker and I learned much later that she claimed to be an "ordained minister" in some so-called "Metaphysical Interfaith Church," having gotten her ordination by proxy through a website. This supposedly allowed her to do "laying on of hands," even though as a "minister" she presided over no congregation and had no further dealings with the headquarters of her "church." Very weird, but I didn't know any of that at the time. To me, she was just someone I had worked with for 12 years on a friendly basis. Except for the Prop 8 flyer I had offered her four months prior, which she refused, I had no reason to expect any problem; I had never brought up Prop 8 again with her; we were both in Team Lead meetings each week; we always greeted one another cheerfully. Business as usual.
I opened the conversation commenting on a quote she had on her cubicle wall. She smiled and warmed up to me, and asked what was up. I showed her the DVD, explaining briefly what it was about: DNA and the molecular machines that make cells work. She looked at it, said, "Looks interesting" in a cheerful voice, and said "Thank you!" The whole encounter lasted maybe 60 seconds or less. She gave no indication this interfered with her work. How could a few seconds of friendly, mutual conversation disrupt a librarian?
The following Monday, I found the DVD on my chair. I said no more about it to her, allowing her to bring it up if she wanted, but otherwise figuring she wasn't interested. Not until a year and a half later did I find out what really happened.
MW had taken the DVD home, but rather than watching it, she fast-forwarded through parts of it and concluded it had a "religious message" of some kind. (We never did hear her say what the religion or message was.) But then, according to her testimony, she turned the DVD case over and saw the post-it note with the names on it. She noticed one name had the words "try again" by it. She freaked out!
She imagined in her mind's eye that I was on some kind of dastardly religious campaign. With no facts, she imagined that I had approached someone, the person refused, and I wrote "try again" by her name. In other words, I was shoving these DVDs at people and insisting they watch them whether they wanted to or not! Irrationally, MW became afraid--so afraid that she didn't even want to talk to me. That's why she just left the DVD on my chair. In deposition, Bill Becker needled MW about this fear of hers. "What was your fear?" he asked. "That he was going to come do something to you? That he was going to publish your name some place? I can't get this at all." The deposition became comical as MW dodged the question, and JPL's attorneys objected vociferously. MW finally said, "I didn't want to be contacted again." Bill asked, "So the sticky note made you feel like he would try to come back and approach you again with another DVD or with this DVD, right?" Answer: "Or -- I don't know. Yes it did." Aaagh! The horror! Friend approaches with DVD in hand. Hold up the crucifix and make it go away!
Dear reader, here is what "try again" really meant. All MW would have had to do is ask me, and I would have explained. Jane had borrowed The Privileged Planet
previously and liked it so much, she had bought a copy. Because of this positive response, I stopped by with Unlocking
a couple of weeks later to see if she was interested. She replied that she was overwhelmed with work for the next several months, but asked me to come back later. Thus, "try again." Incidentally, I never did try again. I never offered Jane another DVD. That had been back in 2005, four years before I offered it to MW. Instead of getting her facts straight, MW went straight to GC, our office manager, and told him she felt "uncomfortable" and "harassed" that I was approaching her about topics regarding "personal choices" that she felt were "inappropriate." In deposition and at trial, MW reluctantly admitted she had used the H-word harassed
to GC. Most often, her preferred word for how she felt was "uncomfortable" (she just loved that word, as if her goal in life is to be comfortable all the time). So even though this was an internal feeling of hers never expressed to me, she meant "uncomfortable" but said "harassed." GC latched onto that word "harassed." Rather than checking to see whether it matched JPL's published definition of harassment with any facts or evidence, decided I was guilty. (Detail: Neither GC or MW had ever accused any other employee of harassment. More on JPL's definition of harassment in a future post.)
At trial, MW was asked what was it about the words "try again" that made her feel 'uncomfortable." "It was the implication
," she said (italics added), "that it was going to be offered again to someone who had already refused it." MW got away with portraying that sticky note as proof, not of facts, but of an implication
formed in her own imagination that I was harassing people and being persistent with those who were not interested in my "personal views" (fact check: millions of people are interested in intelligent design). She felt that my views on "religion" (ID) and "politics" (Prop 8) were "inappropriate" to discuss at work, even though there is no JPL policy against discussing these topics, or any controversial topic at work, and even though JPL routinely promotes anti-religious and anti-ID views during work hours. Nobody checked to see if what I had done came anywhere close to JPL's own clear definition of harassment, a word usually tied to sexual harassment and racial harassment, not intelligent design!
As I sit here at my home computer, out of work now for over two years because of this, I hold no bitterness against the people who did this to me. I wish I could talk to GC, MW, CV and the rest, and let them know that. I don't hold any grudges. That's why I don't use their names here, even though they are matters of public record; I'm not trying to embarrass them; just tell the story as it happened. As a Christian, I know God is in control, that He had a purpose for allowing this all to happen, even though it still is not clear to me, even though I have suffered significant loss over it. I wish investigations and court trials really did rely on facts. I wish I could have a calm, rational discussion about scientific evidence for ID with them. I know they are blinded by the myths of this world, and need the Lord to open their eyes. So I pray for them, and hope some day they will find the true God and eternal life in Christ (see Map
This story still has many chapters. Next I will describe how Human Resources conducted an "investigation" of my activities, an investigation so procedurally flawed and biased against me it sounds like something out of the Inquisition. Till then, be sure to read "Crystal Clear: What My Trial Was All About
" and "The Triggering Incident
." You can find more trial testimony related to this post on Evolution News & Views from 4/13/12
I've been home from the hospital six days now, slowly recovering from my cancer surgery. Friends and family have been very kind to me, and the pain is decreasing as I walk a little farther each day. The outlook is good that I will have my strength back in about a month or two.
A year ago today, I had no idea I had cancer. I was in L. A. Superior Court with my attorney, fighting for freedom of speech and religious expression after I had been discriminated against, and eventually fired, for sharing my views on intelligent design at JPL. Yes, I lost due to one single judge who didn't explain the reasons for his decision, but I can now talk about what happened; it remains an important and lively story. I thought I would share what started my troubles. What triggered the cascade of events that eventually led to my layoff?
With my SA team in 2006 by Cassini model (half-size)
By March 2009, I had been working at JPL for over 12 years, and had been Team Lead of the Cassini System Administration team for nine years straight. Work was going well; I was active and involved in many parts of the mission, including the singing group and outreach as a tour guide. This was on top of my busy schedule heading the team that was responsible for most of the computers on the
Saturn mission. One evening at the end of the week in February, I decided to share a DVD on intelligent design with a female coworker (initials MW) as people were preparing to go home for the long weekend. I had no idea of her feelings about the subject, other than that she looked at the DVD jacket, thanked me, and said "Looks interesting." The idea was that she could watch it at home, if interested. There was no pressure; she had every opportunity to say "No thanks." I was not selling it; just sharing it. [Note: A few months earlier, before the 2008 election I had offered MW an information sheet on California's Proposition 8, the Traditional Marriage Initiative now before the Supreme Court. When she indicated clearly she was not interested, I quickly left and never brought that subject up again. That was my only other clue our views differed on a subject that was very different from intelligent design (ID). She never complained to me about that Prop 8 offer. We remained cordial and friendly in the intervening months.]
The DVD was Unlocking the Mystery of Life
from Illustra Media, a presentation of the scientific evidence for design in biology that remains a classic today. There's no religion in the film at all. I figured sharing this DVD was within my rights on several grounds. For one, friends at work talk about a lot of things; there was no policy against discussing this topic, or even controversial topics. For another, I had known MW for some 12 years; we had a cordial relationship, and usually sat in on the same Team Lead meetings every Monday. For a third, I felt the subject was work-related because one of JPL's primary missions is the origin of life and searching for life beyond Earth. For a fourth, I'm on the board of Illustra Media; understandably, I have an interest in sharing our outstanding films, just like a photographer might want to share his photos. Finally, we do have freedom of speech in this country. If JPL can talk about life evolving by chance, then employees should have the freedom to present scientific evidence for alternative views like design. Many times during work hours I had gone to JPL lectures presenting a naturalistic origin and evolution of life.
Little did I know I was about to find out the extent of intolerance against intelligent design. That intolerance even exceeded the ignorance at JPL of what intelligent design is. The knee-jerk reaction is that it is a religious view. Strange; nobody ever pointed out the religion in the DVD.
Monday March 2 began normally. What I didn't know is that MW had gone to my office manager GC first thing in the morning, complaining that she felt "harassed" by this DVD. Harassed is a strong word, but GC believed her story, not pressing her for any facts to support her charge. He held his anger in till the afternoon--anger, because GC himself had a strong antipathy to intelligent design. I had found that out about seven years earlier when I offered him the same DVD, and heard him say he didn't like it because it disagreed with Darwinian evolution. Once I learned his view, I avoided the subject with him and didn't bring it up again, even though I personally knew he had come from a strong Christian background (I was a friend of his uncle, who had told me). Like many who attend the university, GC had abandoned his faith and embraced Darwin.
At about 3:30 p.m., after our weekly Team Lead meeting, GC called me into his office, a stern expression on his face, and closed the door. I remember that meeting like it was yesterday, because it was a complete surprise; also, because I documented what happened in an email to him that night. Here is that email (Trial Exhibit 64) written within hours of the meeting:[GC],
I want to repeat my commitment to you, that I respect your authority, and will abide by your directives in this office, as I always have, to the extent that they do not violate the laws of the United States or my conscience.
Given the sensitive nature of yesterday's interchange, I feel a mutually-agreed on record of the conversation is important for our mutual protection. Here are my recollections. The purpose is to record what was actually said, not what might have been the intent, nor to comment on the merit of any points made. You can correct any errors or omissions, or simply reply to this email to acknowledge whether this summary is basically accurate.
You told me that it had been reported to you that I was pushing my religious views at work and that some found this offensive. You told me this must stop. You ordered me not to discuss politics or religion with anyone in this office.
When I asked for specifics about who complained, you said you did not have to provide me names. When I offered to
provide examples of conversations I knew of, you did not wish to hear them.
When I asked what constituted the religious views, you said I was giving out DVDs about intelligent design.
When I asked why that constituted pushing religious views, you said emphatically, "intelligent design is religion" at least twice.
When I asked if SETI is religion, since it also uses scientific methods to infer intelligence, you said that was different, and
SETI has been decided by NASA to be a scientific activity.
When I asked if evolution is religious, you said that that evolution by scientific consensus was science.
When I asked if science is determined by consensus or by evidence, you did not wish to discuss that subject.
Throughout this interchange, you repeated the order several times to cease all discussion of religion with anyone in this office, to the point where I remarked I heard you and did not need the repetition.
You said that if what I was doing continued, it would be difficult for me to maintain employment in this organization.
When I said this order gets into issues of freedom of speech and religion, you did not wish to discuss that subject, and got up to leave.
When I said this could be construed as creating a hostile work environment, you said "Go ahead a file a complaint," and walked out.
No complaints about my job performance were stated.
Nothing was said whether my alleged religious activities were interfering with work.
The conversation lasted about 5-10 minutes on Monday, March 2, 2009, about 3:30 p.m.
Toward a mutual understanding and constructive work relationship,
David F. Coppedge
This email cannot capture the emotions in that room. GC was angry! He admitted that on the stand. He admitted that he
raised his voice, and that he exclaimed "Intelligent design is religion!". He tried to backpedal on his threat that I could lose my job, claiming that he was just trying to "help" me or "defend" me against people who might disagree with my views. The reader can evaluate that kind of post-hoc rationalization.
As for me, I had never faced an accusation like this before. I really felt I was facing a constitutional crisis. GC had put me on the defensive. I know a lot about intelligent design; GC clearly did not; that's why I was trying to explain that SETI (which JPL approves) uses the same kind of reasoning. Defending myself was hopeless, though; GC was dead set on shutting me up. This was clear from his manner when, at the end of the conversation, I said in a trembling voice, "This gets into issues of freedom of speech and religion." [Note: I do not believe intelligent design is religion, but GC did; if he discriminated against me on the basis of perceived
religion, he was breaking the law.] So how did he respond? He got up to walk out on me. As he was leaving, I said, "This could be construed as creating a hostile work environment." He literally shouted on the way out the door, "Then go ahead and file a complaint!"
I left that meeting deeply disturbed about what had happened--so disturbed, in fact, that one of the first things I did was call the Chief Ethics Officer, a man I had come to know a couple of years earlier when I needed JPL's policy on bylines for writing articles. Fortunately, he was available, and invited me over to chat. When I explained what had happened, he told me there is no policy on discussing ID or religion at work, only that employees should be careful. Even though he was
Mormon, he also misunderstood the non-religious nature of ID. I could understand how someone in his highly visible position would have to be careful sharing his Mormon faith, but I was not sharing any faith--just scientific evidence. He assured me there was no policy against discussing religion, and he thought that my office manager's response was over the top and excessive. He offered to talk to both of us together or separately if I wished. I declined for the time, hoping I could work things out with my boss. I was not going to file a complaint; my goal was to reconcile with GC.
That evening, I wrote an email to myself documenting as much as I could remember, then I composed the email to GC that
became Exhibit 64. GC never wrote me back. It took 17 months, after my attorney and I had filed our lawsuit, before discovery documents showed what he had done. He never did reply to me. Instead, he wrote a response to my line
managers, his line managers and Human Resources (HR). We also found out that he launched a "pre-emptive strike" to protect himself from accusations of having created a hostile work environment, to make sure I was the one to get in trouble
over that meeting. More on that later. Here was GC's version of the story, Exhibit 227, pp. 48-49 (employee names converted to initials for their privacy, ellipses in original; bold added):Here's my description of yesterday's interactions:
Approx 8 AM, employee MW came to my office to express a concern about being "harassed" by David -- his belief in Intelligent Design and Support for Prop. 8. I advised employee to tell Dave that they're not interested in hearing about his belief and leave it at that. However, if he continued, I would need to know ... so that I can talk to him. The employee also said that Dave had a "list" of individuals with whom he desired to "talk" to ... or follow-up with ....
Approx 3:30 PM, I talked to Dave about his personal beliefs and advised him that he should be careful. He should not attempt to advocate his beliefs or question the beliefs of others. He responded that he felt that he was being singled out ... and requested that I tell him the names of his "accusers." I refused ... but told him that he needs to be careful and that this type of discussion is appropriate in certain setting (i.e., a JPL Bible Study group or where an individuals [sic] requests an opinion).
I informed him that Intelligent Design (ID) is a personal belief that should be kept to himself unless invited by other to discuss. Dave also wanted to know why he was being singled out...and that another employee (VB) happens to have a Muslim quote on their e-mail. .. and why I did not discuss with them ... about not pursuing their personal beliefs. I said that if
you're offend [sic] ... and complaining to me about the phrase, then I would go talk to the individual. I informed him that he was not being singled out... as I have a complaint alleging that he is harrassing people with his ideology.
He then want to know ... "what Is science?" And ... what is SETI? He then felt that we were protecting "evolution" as a "protected religion" and cited that our press releases promoted evolution. I said that evolution is currently viewed as the scientific basis of how things evolve ... he then insisted that ID is consistent with that thought. I reminded him not to discuss this issue any further. He then challenged me to a debate on Intelligent Design off Lab. I told him no. I told him ...
this topic is not for further discussion. He objected. I then told him ... that if pursues this line of thought (wanting to discuss ID with individuals ... who have already said that they're not interesting [sic] in hearing), that his employment options here would be severely limited (my thinking ... he's bordering insubordination). He then told me that he felt that I was threatening him ... and creating a "hostile work environment". I informed him that if he felt that, please go ahead and file a complaint with his supervisor.
I then went to disclose this interaction with his current supervisor [CB] and the Cassini Program's AA [Administrative
Assistant, CV]. I have also left a phone message on the Employee Relations (xn-nnnn) phone line ... requesting assistance and to document this exchange. I have also called (and left a message describing the above) with WH, Section 17x AA.
I have since talked directly with [WH] who says that she is informing [KK] (Section 173 Manager) and her HR representative. I've also called my Line Management organization (MM) and left a message about the situation.
I have not responded to Dave's previous e-mail and will not do so until I have received advise [sic] from HR or line
Several things are noteworthy in GC's email. First is the complete absence of any reference to bad work habits, personal flaws or poor job performance
(see my blog entry from 2/22, "Crystal Clear: What My Trial Was All About"
that refers to this March 2 triggering incident). His entire email was about the impropriety of sharing my "personal views" on ID or Prop 8. There is only one mention of Prop 8 in his email to management, but six
about intelligent design (ID), meaning ID was clearly what was on his mind as the ground of my infraction (I have no record of GC mentioning Prop 8 in the March 2 meeting).
Also noteworthy is the difference in tone between his email and mine. I was focused on reconciliation--agreeing on the facts "toward a constructive work relationship" -- and my email was written privately and respectfully to him alone. Instead, GC sent his version to four important managers and an HR investigator, distorting particulars of the conversation. Notice, for instance, how he said I felt he was "creating a hostile work environment" when my wording was, "this could be construed as
creating a hostile work environment". I reported him saying, "Then go ahead and file a complaint" but he claims he said, "I
informed him that if he felt that, please go ahead and file a complaint with his supervisor." There was no "please" in his shout. He portrayed himself not as angry, as he would testify later, but as a cool, rational manager dealing with an employee challenging him so much it was "bordering on insubordination" (the first time he had ever made such a claim about my attitude). In fact, he was lambasting me in this surprise encounter, in a raised angry voice, putting me on the defensive. I was not challenging him to a "debate" off lab. I was just offering a chance for a more rational discussion at another time when he wasn't so angry.
There are also some out-and-out lies in his email. Nobody ever told me those DVDs were unwelcome. Nobody ever said
they were not interested. In fact, the slightest indication someone was not interested (body language, tone of voice, or leaving the DVD on my desk) was enough for me to drop the subject with that person. And I never questioned the beliefs of others. GC was
singling me out; he had never given any other individual such an order in his career spanning decades. By the way, I was not insubordinate; even after his outrageously discriminatory order, I obeyed it, never sharing another DVD after March 2.
Notice also that GC was well aware I felt at the time he was threatening me. That undermines his later post-hoc rationalizations that he was just trying to "help" me get along with people.
Most important is the clear evidence of discrimination in his email. While the Darwinians have free rein at JPL to push atheism, anti-ID views and Darwinism, I was informed that "this topic" [ID] "is not for further discussion." I was ordered "not to discuss this topic any further" with anyone
, not just MW. This amounted to prior restraint on my speech. GC characterized my views as "ideology" but JPL's Darwinian views as "science." He ordered me to cease discussion of ID so many times I told him "I heard him, and didn't need the repetition." He threatened me with loss of a job. And he did
create a hostile work environment -- but I was the one who got in trouble for his discriminatory tirade!
MW pushed GC's domino, and it started a whole chain of events that led to my getting fired. For what? Sharing a DVD about scientific evidence for intelligent design. That's what this case was all about.
You can mock ID; you can laugh at it; you can post cartoons ridiculing it and traditional marriage on your office door, but share a non-threatening, well-done
presentation on scientific evidence for design, and this is what can happen to you.
I have a great deal more to share about the trial from time to time, but this "triggering incident" is important to understand. Never underestimate the intolerance of Darwinians for intelligent design. It could cost you your job.
My sister Judy and me at the front entrance
(This is the first day after my surgery I'm feeling well enough to write, so I thought I'd share a few thoughts what God has been teaching me this week.)
St. Augustine was well known for his large work, The City of God, that compared God's domain with man's. I don't suppose either Augustine or the designers of City of Hope Clinical Research Hospital had that in mind, but I think Augustine would certainly approve of calling the "City of God" a City of Hope as well. For it is in Christ Jesus that we have hope of eternal life for this life and the next. I have also found that God's hope is for this life as well. It's a hope that stems from the goodness of God – his affection for His creatures that moves him to act on their behalf, because it is His good pleasure to see them rejoice in Him. He is good. He has been good to me this week.
In rhe emotional distress I faced after the diagnosis on January 11, I first saw that goodness in God's leading to two of the finest clinical oncologists I could ever "hope" to have cutting me open. It just so happened (I use that phrase advisedly) that my first oncologist said on my first visit, "You are fortunate that we have working in this area one of the finest surgical oncologists at City of Hope hospital, with years of experience specifically operating on tumors. He has just opened up an office nearby. I want to go over your scans with him in the morning, then I want you to make an appointment with him immediately." It turns out that he is not only one of the finest in the area, but probably in California and the nation as well. In his part if the surgery, Dr. Vijay Trisal succeeded in getting the entire primary tumor out, including the lymph nodes and associated tissue. Then he carefully removed a foot of small intestine and sutured it successfully together allowing me to eat my first clear liquid food today. In another answer to prayer and evidence of His goodness, He moved Dr. Trisal to go for primary tumor removal first--a good thing, because by Feb. 26 it was almost completely blocking my small intestine. The Lord him make that critical decision in the nick of time.
Assisting Dr. Trisal on Tuesday was Dr. Gagandeep Singh, another outstanding surgeon--chief of surgery here at COH and one who knows the cutting edge science as well as the cutting edge of the scalpel. Dr. Singh spent six of the eight hour operation removing as many liver tumors and tumor clusters as he could, including 86 from the surface. Wisely he decided not to attempt a major resection, though, lest I face loss of function. "You can survive without a kidney," he said, "but not without a liver." In his meeting with me the prior day, he encouraged me with promising new treatments that may be ready when I need them – targeted therapies that can specifically target the tumor cells without harming healthy tissue. I was very glad to know that Dr. Singh, Dr. Trisal and City of Hope are on the leading edge of cancer treatment.
Helford Hospital at City of Hope, where I write from
I was reminded again how God's goodness is reflected in the goodness of His people. While I have had to learn some patience with hospital staff some days (more about this in a satire perhaps tomorrow), I was glad to have regular visitors flow into my groggy field of vision, encourage me, and pray for me. My sister would do anything she could, anything I asked; her family made arrangements to help free up her time so she could be with me the whole week.
I will not deny that an operation of this magnitude is an ordeal. Imagine every slight cough or hiccup leading to stabs of pain in the abdomen. Imagine the struggle to breathe normally. I tell you, when you lose your health, even temporarily, you understand what a precious gift it is. So many people do the simplest, ordinary things every day in ways that would have caused me to shrink in horror at the thought of going through that pain again. Health is itself a gift of God's goodness. It is tragic to think of the many who, because of refusal to accept God's salvation from their sin, choose sickness over eternal life, pain over God's pleasure, tears over God's good gifts.
At this point I'm getting a little better each day. The first 3 days after surgery were the hardest, but I'm making progress. It was a great relief todaywhen Dr. Singh gave permission to remove the breathing tube. Now another day or two
and I could be tube-free. We celebrate the goodness of God by saying grace before meals. I tell you, no clear broth and apple juice was better blessed! Soon I hope I will be home, where challenges will continue in my City of Hope under God.