Published Thursday, February 7, 2008 4:09 AM PST


JPL back to court in background check case

On Feb. 15 Jet Propulsion Laboratory employees will be back in district court concerning their lawsuit against NASA.

Twenty-eight scientists and engineers at JPL filed the suit challenging NASA’s requirement of background investigations that they contend are unconstitutional. The background checks were required in 2007 by NASA in accordance to a 2004 Bush administration directive.

Background checks are required by all governmental offices due to this directive but each office can choose their own procedure, said Virginia Keeny, attorney for the JPL employees. The investigations that NASA required of their JPL employees can include interviews with neighbors and fellow workers and can require information on the employees’ health and sexual history.

The case has been heard in district and the 9th Circuit Court. The most recent ruling made by the 9th Circuit upheld a December preliminary injunction. This meant that all JPL/Caltech employees do not have to complete the background checks until the case is decided in the district court.

“Prior to the injunction we were told we were going to be terminated if we did not complete the checks,” said Dennis Burns, one of the JPL employees that joined the lawsuit. “They called it voluntary termination.”

Just before the 9th Circuit ruling was released, the district court released Caltech from the lawsuit. Caltech had been listed with NASA. Although the circuit court decision included Caltech. “Caltech is out, by the district court ruling however we are going to appeal that decision,” Keneny said. She describes the Feb. 15 hearing as an organizational meeting where future court dates will be set.