On December 7th, Beth Daley of the Boston Globe reported on a lawsuit filed against Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) by former employee Nathaniel Abraham, who was terminated from a post-doctoral research position in December, 2004. In June, 2006, Abraham filed a complaint with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination, asserting that he had been unlawfully fired by his supervisor, Woods Hole senior scientist Mark E. Hahn, because he expressed a disbelief in the theory of evolution.
In April 2007, the Commission ruled that "there was insufficient probable cause to find that Hahn and Woods Hole engaged in unlawful discriminatory practices." Abraham subsequently enlisted the assistance of David C. Gibbs III of the Christian Law Association, a Seminole, Florida group that offers pro bono representation to "Bible-believing churches and Christians who are experiencing legal difficulty in practicing their religious faith." He is seeking $500,000 in compensation for violation of his civil rights.
As with all such cases, this one is made up of unsubstantiated, and unverifiable, claims and counter-claims concerning what was said off the record, what was "understood" between parties at any given time, and so forth. In the interests of a rational approach, let's look only at the facts we know.
According to his complaint filed on November 29, 2007 in U.S. District Court in Boston, Abraham replied to a job posting. He was hired, in March, 2004, because of "his exceptional qualifications as a zebrafish developmental biologist and specific expertise in programmed cell death," an esoteric specialization that the grant position defined precisely.
Neither the job posting, the grant parameters, nor the subject under research explicitly required "acceptance, or application of, the theory of evolution as scientific fact." Most relevant to Abraham's case is Item 17 in the complaint: "Plaintiff at all times, before his employment began helping to design and construct the lab, and during his employment, performed exemplary work and was often praised and commended by Defendant Hahn and other staff members for the quality of his research, commitment and scientific presentations."
This is the critical element of the case, disregarding all furor over just what ideological disagreements may be frothing on the surface. Abraham claims that there were no criticisms of his work whatsoever until he mentioned in a casual conversation that he did not believe in evolution. He was consequently called in for a meeting with his supervisor, Mark Hahn. Abraham says that after this point, he was pressured to change his beliefs - not his work, which up to then had been praised, but his beliefs.