We employment defense attorneys are especially fond of the minefield analogy.  You get over a million hits if you Google: "California ’employment law’ minefield."  So no matter how fitting the analogy may be, it’s overused.  We need to come up with something new.  It’s time to move on.  I propose a tightrope analogy.

A recent case involving NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory illustrates the analogy particularly well.  Managers at JPL were concerned that an employee was persistently proselytizing by engaging co-workers in arguments about "intelligent design" and even distributing documentaries on the subject.  They accused him of creating a hostile work environment for co-workers and ultimately demoted him.

The employee sued, claiming that this was discrimination against him based on his religion.  JPL moved for summary judgment and the trial judge (Judge Ernest M. Hiroshige in LA Superior) denied the motion.  According to the court, a jury should decide whether JPL acted based on the plaintiff’s religious beliefs as opposed to his persistence in espousing them to co-workers.  That’s a pretty fine line to draw and illustrates how employers dealing with these issues are walking in a mine . . . er, I mean on a tightrope. 

The case (Coppedge v. NASA JPL) is discussed in Law 360 (subscription required), which included a copy of the order (pdf).