Federal court of appeals rules in favor of JPL employees in suit against Caltech and NASA over intrusive background investigations

Press Release From:
Posted: Friday, January 11, 2008



When: Friday Jan 11, 2008 at Circa 2 P.M. Following court proceedings

Where: Courtroom 11 United States District Court, Presiding Judge, Otis Wright 312 North Spring Street, Los Angeles

Today, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals issued an opinion in favor of the JPL employees who sued Caltech and NASA over intrusive background investigations.

A lower court had dismissed the employee's claims and the employees won a temporary injunction from the ninth circuit court of appeals. Yesterday' the same lower court dismissed Caltech as a defendant in the case. Today's action by the court of appeals overules the lower court.

The Ninth Circuit Court of appeals found, "The Appellants have demonstrated serious questions as to certain of their claims on which they are likely to succeed on the merits, and the balance of hardships tips sharply in their favor. We therefore conclude that the district court abused its discretion in denying Appellants' motion for a preliminary injunction, and we reverse and remand."

In addition the court reinstated Caltech as a defendant in the case. Caltech had claimed it was only doing what NASA said. However the court said, "...Caltech did do more--it established, on its own initiative, a policy that JPL employees who failed to obtain federal identification badges would not simply be denied access to JPL, they would be terminated entirely from Caltech's employment."

Robert M. Nelson, a Senior Research Scientist at JPL and the lead plaintiff in the case said, "This is a victory for all NASA employees and a victory for those who wrote the constitution of the United States. All Americans should thank James Madison and his colleagues for giving us the Bill of Rights".

Background: The case evolves from a hearing last year in which employees of NASA's JPL sought injunctive relief against their employer, Caltech, and the NASA in order to prevent intrusive personal background investigations. Caltech and NASA argued that these intrusions were required under Homeland Security Presidential Directive #12, an executive order signed by President George W. Bush. The JPL employees do no classified work.

Judge Otis Wright dismissed the case on October 3, 2007. The employees appealed to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals and an emergency temporary injunction was granted on October, 5 2007, just hours before JPL was to begin advertising for replacements for those employees who were deemed non-compliant. A second panel of the Ninth Circuit Court heard arguments on this case on Dec 5, 2007, Todays opinion is the outcome of that hearing. All court documents relevant to the case can be found at

Contact: Robert M. Nelson, Lead Plaintiff. 818-635-5536,

Court opinion 11 January 2008 (PDF)

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