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JPL employee unlikely to get relief in termination case

Initial reports out of Los Angeles County show that a judge will likely side with the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in a high-profile wrongful termination case. The case hinges upon a claim that the facility fired a worker because he attempted to promote intelligent design at work. The man, a computer designer who was integral in the network development for the Cassini mission, attempted to promote his intelligent design philosophy by distributing DVDs. He also created and maintained a website devoted to the philosophy.

In 2009, the man was told by a supervisor to keep his religious beliefs private. Not only is the man accused of pushing the creationist perspective, but his other actions rankled coworkers' opinions of his professionalism. He apparently attempted to have the holiday potluck renamed after Christmas, and he vocally disagreed with Proposition 8, which was related to gay marriage.

The plaintiff contends that his leadership responsibilities and title were removed, though his salary remained unchanged. He formally filed the suit in 2010, but he lost his job in a wave of cutbacks that happened the next year.

The defendants' legal teams have argued that the man was fired because of his outdated computer skills and inflexible attitude. The man was unwilling to work with others and made a poor teammate, both of which are negative attributes within the scientific community, according to the JPL.

Although the official decision has not yet been handed down, a judge in the case said he agreed with the JPL attorneys. The judge ordered defense attorneys to draw up a proposed judgment within 30 days of the formal ruling, which is expected to be handed down in the coming weeks.

This case illustrates the delicate nature of wrongful termination suits. JPL, a government-sponsored entity, likely maintained meticulous employment records to justify their firing decision. That documentation is required before terminating employment, especially in the federal system, and it probably weighed heavily in the judge's tentative decision.

Source: The Los Angeles Times, "Judge tentatively sides with JPL in wrongful-termination suit," Nov. 2, 2012

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