In August of 1998 Paul LaViolette was hired by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) to work as an examiner of MRI patents. Some months later, Tom Valone, a friend of his who also worked at the patent office began planning a conference on new energy technology that was to be held in Washington at the Department of Commerce auditorium. He created a posting on his website advertising the conference and LaViolette put a link to the posting on his own website. One of the papers at the conference was to be presented by a scientist doing research on cold fusion. Today cold fusion is no longer controversial since the effect has been successfully demonstrated numerous times on demand. Even the Office of Naval Research, which had been quietly studying the phenomenon for 10 years had eventually announced that they felt the effect was real. But in 1998 it was still controversial to many physicists. As a result, Robert Park, director of Public Information for the APS (American Physical Society) in Washington periodically made postings in his What’s New column on the APS website castigating researchers who pursued this line of research, referring to them as crack pots and quacks. One of his favorite targets was the inventor Randall Mills, CEO of Brilliant Light Corp. who currently has developed and tested a generator that is able to produce a megawatt of electricity deriving its energy from water plus a catalyst. Although Mills’ technology is not the same as cold fusion, Park nevertheless considered it so and included him in his attacks.
Shortly afterward Valone had posted about his upcoming energy conference Park turned his sights against Valone and LaViolette organizing an attack to get them both fired from their jobs. He made derogatory postings about them in his What’s New column that were full of untruths and arranged for members to copy these postings in protest letters that were sent to upper and mid management level supervisors and directors of the USPTO as well as to the White House, and NIST. In April 1999, the day after this email onslaught reached a peak, the director of his division requested LaViolette’s resignation. At the same time she began proceedings against Valone who was removed 5 months later.
Immediately after receiving this shocking news, LaViolette filed a case with the Office of Civil Rights in the Dept. of Commerce in which he claimed that his firing involved discrimination against him on account of his scientific beliefs. The agency dismissed his case in September 1999 claiming that his allegations of discrimination did not fall under any protected equal employment opportunity activity of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. So he then appealed to the EEOC (Equal Employment Oportunity Commission) who ruled that the DOC had improperly dismissed his claim of religious discrimination and determined that processing of his complaint should be continued. They determined that if a person who was discriminated against on the basis of his unorthodox scientific beliefs is protected under Title VII if those beliefs are for him religious or have a spiritual aspect for him.
LaViolette is a panentheist in his belief, an outlook held by orthodox Christians, Buddhists, Hinduists, Taoists, Pagans, as well as Shamans. This view holds that the physical universe is an aspect of God, not something separate from God. Hence LaViolette believed that in the course of his scientific investigations he studies an aspect of God, and hence his investigations have a spiritual aspect. Hence the EEOC ruling opened up the new possibility that employees who are panentheists and have been fired due to the scientific beliefs should be protected by Title VII.
The EEOC ruling generated a lot of interest. The Washington Post did a story on it in August 2000 (see following link)., which triggered an avalanche of newspaper and human resource newsletter stories. Unfortunately, many of these news stories distorted the truth of this case to such an extent that they are best described as fake news. LaViolette describes the EEOC ruling at the following link (The July 2000 EEOC Decision) and also provides links there to postings which correct these news errors. The best overview of LaViolette’s case is presented in a paper written by law student Tarah Grant which may be downloaded at the link below.
Give me that Cold Fusion Religion: A closer look at LaViolette v. Department of Commerce
Paper by George Mason University law student Tarah Grant written December 2000.
© T. Grant
Most of the discussion of LaViolette v. DOC is from page 17 onward.
The first part of the paper reviews EEOC cases regarding religious discrimination.
Unfortunately, LaViolette was unable to find a lawyer who would take his case without fee. So he had to represent himself. He presented extensive information to the court of the APS email campaign from emails he had obtained through use of the Freedom of Information Act. He even included an email in which one of Park’s collaborators at the State Department wrote to Park indicating their plans to get both examiners fired. LaViolette also presented extensive evidence of how his job performance at the time was as good as other recent hires and improving and hence that the reasons that the USPTO gave for his dismissal were a cover and that the true reason was to do the bidding of the APS to fire these two “free thinkers”.
In addition, LaViolette explained how, after he was notified of his termination, he had gone to a patent office job fair to seek re-employment and was subsequently turned away. In the past there was a revolving door policy in which patent office examiners who were fired from their jobs could reapply for a job in a different technology art area. He was even told this by the director in charge of patent office hiring. However, upon arriving at the job fair he was approached by one of the other patent office directors, who had a picture of him, and was told sternly (almost angrily) that he was not to be interviewed. Meanwhile other applicants were permitted to attend (likely including many who had similarly been fired from their examiner jobs). To justify their actions, the head of the patent office afterwards issued a policy statement to all patent office employees that the revolving door policy would no longer be allowed. One need not dwell on the subject too long to realize that the real reason for issuing this proclamation was to justify keeping LaViolette out of the patent office.
The EEOC political appointee had assigned LaViolette’s case to a very conservative judge who was extremely biased against the EEOC decision, having read about it in the Washington Post. When he spoke to her to inform her that she had been assigned to be the judge in his case, she stated in an angry tone of voice, “I didn’t get that case did I!”. Not surprisingly, she ultimately ruled against LaViolette. Tom Valone, on the other hand, was able to get legal representation from the patent office labor union. After four years, he won his case against the USPTO and got his job back with four years back pay.
In October 2000 LaViolette presented about the patent office fiasco to the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works (paper available for download here). But no political action resulted. The director who had fired LaViolette and Valone was eventually promoted to be head of the Patent Office.
It’s easy to see without looking too far,
That not much is really sacred.
Bob Dylan, 1965, I’ts Alright Ma, I’m Only Bleeding