Privacy Issues of NASA Scientists Debated in the Supreme Court

October 12, 2010

In recent news that our Riverside employment attorneys have been following, twenty-eight scientists who work at the Jet Propulsion Lab (JPL) in southern California, challenged the government's use of background investigations in the Supreme Court last week, on the government's right to question intimate details about their personal lives.

According to the Los Angeles Times, Robert M. Nelson, the lead plaintiff in the case, who has worked as a space scientist at JPL for over 30 years, filed a lawsuit with his colleagues in federal court against NASA, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, for violating its contractor's privacy.

The scientists are reportedly employed by the California Institute of Technology, which runs JPL under a NASA contract, and filed the suit after NASA asked for new background checks to investigate the long-term independent contractors. The JPL contractors stated in their case that NASA's investigations into the intimate details of their personal lives, such as sexual tendencies, drug usage, health, and finances, were humiliating to their professional integrity.

The contractors claim that because they are "low risk" employees, and their duties are not involved with classified or secret materials, this type of personal invasion is not necessary. The U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals reportedly ruled in favor of the contractors, claiming that these questions were in violation of their privacy rights.

Last year, Elena Kagan, who was Solicitor General then, urged the court to consider reversing the ruling, claiming that it was a threat to the government's current background forms, that are standardized and filled out by millions of federal workers.

Although Kagan was not present, the justices reportedly debated during the hour on whether or not the Constitution limits questions that prospective employees can ask, and protects the personal privacy of government employees and job applicants. As Kagan served as the solicitor general for the Obama administration before her bench nomination, she withdrew from participating in appeals where there might be a conflict of interest. The justices will reportedly issue a ruling in the case of NASA v. Nelson by June.

In Orange County, California, our Anaheim-based labor & employment Attorneys know how to find the best solution to your labor or employment issue. Contact Howard Law, PC today.

Justices Skeptical of Caltech Scientists' Privacy Claims, The Los Angeles Times, October 5, 2010

Supreme Court Debates Privacy Rights of Government Contractors, CNN, October 5, 2010

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