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Fired Penn State football doctor who clashed with James Franklin can proceed to trial

Penn State football coach James Franklin is seen in a file photo. (Barry Reeger/AP)
Penn State football coach James Franklin is seen in a file photo. (Barry Reeger/AP)
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By John Luciew | pennlive.com (TNS)

The case of a fired Penn State football doctor who clashed with Coach James Franklin is finally headed to trial in Dauphin County Court.

Judge Andrew Dowling refused a request by Penn State Health to issue a summary judgment in the case that would have ended the near-five-year legal odyssey by finding against Dr. Scott Lynch, an orthopedic surgeon.

Instead, Dowling ruled “there are issues of material fact as to why Plaintiff (Lynch) was let go from his position with Penn State” that should be decided by a jury at trial, which could convene as soon as March.

In his ruling, Dowling agreed with Lynch’s lawyer, Steven F. Marino, who argued only a jury can decide why Lynch was dismissed from his roles as Penn State’ director of athletic medicine and orthopedic consultant to the football team back in 2019.

Marino alleges Lynch was ousted from his PSU athletics role due to his repeated clashes with Penn State Football Coach James Franklin. Marino said Franklin, on multiple occasions, tried to interfere with Lynch’s medical decisions in order to rush injured players back to the field.

“Coach Franklin interfered with the medical management and return-to-play decisions” by Dr. Lynch, Marino told the judge during a hearing earlier this month.

Dowling agreed, writing in his ruling: “Plaintiff claims that we was fired because he refused to comply with demands that he violate his duties as a physician, and there is evidence to support Plaintiff’s claim.”

Said Marino, reacting to the ruling: “Judge Dowling’s well-reasoned order accurately reflects Pennsylvania law, and we look forward to presenting to a jury.”

But Dowling also said there are facts to support Penn State Health’s position that Lynch was ousted at Penn State athletics because he lacked a primary residence in State College and a local doctor would better serve the health and welfare of PSU athletes. For his part, Lynch noted he had a State College condo, where he stayed four nights a week.

“Defendants claim that Plaintiff was fired because he did not live in State College, and there is evidence to support Defendant’s claim,” the judge wrote.

Attorneys for Penn State Health could not immediately be reached for comment.

Lynch, who is seeking unspecified monetary damages in the case, texted this reaction to the ruling to a reporter:

“As I told you before, all I ever wanted was to be able to tell the true story of what happened. So, it appears I have won. It’s really a win for the student-athlete. That’s what is important.”

Dowling’s ruling sets up a trial during which Lynch has previously promised to deliver “fireworks” regarding the instances he claims Coach Franklin interfered with his medical decisions and treatment plans for Penn State football players.

Franklin and Penn State deny the allegations and were dropped as defendants in the case in 2020 after Dowling ruled Lynch’s suit was filed three days late. But Lynch’s claims that Franklin applied pressure on him to speed the return of injured athletes to the playing field remains at the center of the case.

In his ruling to allow the case to proceed to trial, Dowling framed the issue this way: “The public health of citizens of Pennsylvania would be harmed if employers were allowed to force employees to violate the standard of care or risk being fired for refusing.”

Dowling also refused a motion by Penn State Health to drop Dr. Kevin Black, Lynch’s former supervisor, from being sued individually in the case.

“Furthermore, there is evidence that defendant Black may be liable to Plaintiff pursuant to the common law participation theory,” Dowling wrote, adding corporate officers such as Black can be held personally liable for “misfeasance.”

Lynch says Black is the one who told him he was out at Penn State athletics because he lacked a primary residence in State College and that a local doctor would better serve PSU athletes.

“There is a genuine issue of material facts as to Plaintiff’s claims of a retaliatory adverse employment action, which precludes the entry of summary judgment,” Dowling concluded.

The only other thing that could head off a trial now would be an out-of-court settlement.

Asked about the possibility of this after the Feb. 7 hearing, Marino told a reporter: “Depends on how much money they have,” referring to Penn State. “What does Coach Franklin earn in a year?”

For his part, Lynch said then he wouldn’t accept a settlement that prevents him from discussing his experience, rail against medical interference by college coaches and advance the cause of independent medical treatment of all players across college sports.

“I’m not going to be muzzled,” Lynch vowed.

Penn State, Penn State Health and Black have all denied Lynch’s allegations, saying they opted for a State College-based doctor to fill Lynch’s previous roles to ensure student-athletes had more immediate medical access.

Lynch, a former national champion wrestler at Penn State, was appointed to the orthopedic position with the football program for the 2013 season and was made the university’s director of athletic medicine for the following season, the first under Franklin.

Lynch, 62, remains director of sports medicine at Penn State Health but says his sports-medicine-focused practice has been damaged by his dismissal from duties with Penn State athletics and PSU football.

©2024 Advance Local Media LLC. Visit pennlive.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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