• Photo Gallery: Suing the Federal Government
- Twenty-eight JPL employees filed a lawsuit in federal court Thursday
against NASA, the Department of Commerce and Caltech claiming the
federal government is requiring invasive background checks into their
"By joining with my colleagues and (law firm) Hadsell &
Stormer, I'm hoping to preserve the rights guaranteed to us by the Bill
of Rights," Zareh Gorjian, a 17-year JPL employee, said at a news
conference at the Pasadena-based law firm.
At issue are new regulations that all National Aeronautics
and Space Administration employees and contractors are being required
to follow. Employees must provide fingerprints for an FBI background
check, as well as personal references and information about past
residences and recreational drug use.
Employees must also sign an open-ended waiver giving investigators access to other private records.
information may include, but it not limited to, my academic,
residential, achievement, performance, attendance, disciplinary,
employment history and criminal
record information," the waiver reads.
provided by the employees are asked whether they have any adverse
information about the person's financial integrity, general behavior or
conduct, mental or emotional stability or other matters.
Charts posted on an internal JPL Web site set forth a long
list of possible reasons for disbarment, including "carnal knowledge,"
"sodomy," or multiple instances of "attitude," bad checks, drunkeness,
obscene phone calls, traffic violations or loitering.
Susan Foster, a senior technical writer specialist at JPL
and employee there since 1968, said she had never been required to
provide such extensive personal information in all her time at the
"I have never been asked to release that information in 40
years, even when I had a security clearance, even during the Cold War,"
Both JPL and Caltech declined to comment on the lawsuit,
and Department of Commerce spokespersons did not respond to requests
for an interview Thursday.
NASA Headquarters spokesman David Mould said that the case,
like all those against the federal government, would be directed to the
Department of Justice.
"We are given the rules and we carry them out," he said.
"There are no provisions for us to make exemptions for any
Like the vast majority of JPL employees, none of the
plaintiffs now work on sensitive or high security projects. Several are
senior scientists contributing to JPL's most high-profile missions.
Together, they are seeking an injunction against the
requirement. The group said they were given until Sept. 28 to
relinquish the required information or be forbidden from returning to
work after Oct. 27.
A hearing on the injunction request will be held on Sept. 24.
JPL employees' legal fight is being supported in part by tens of
thousands of dollars in donations from JPL employees, said Dennis
Byrnes, one of the plaintiffs and JPL's chief engineer for flight
"We have enough to pay the initial round of costs, and then we'll see where it goes from there," he said.
The Hadsell & Stormer attorneys are donating their time for the case, he said.
think we have a pretty good chance of getting an injunction," said Dan
Stormer, an attorney at the civil and human rights law firm.
As for the success of the lawsuit itself, he said, "I think
the law is on our side. I think it will depend on public opinion and
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