Penn State wants 'disgruntled' former football team doctor's lawsuit dismissed

(Allentown) Morning Call (TNS)
Dr. Scott Lynch

Penn State is asking a Pennsylvania court to dismiss a whistleblower lawsuit filed by the football team’s former doctor, according to court filings.

Dr. Scott Lynch, Penn State’s former director of athletics medicine, filed a civil suit Aug. 23 alleging that Coach James Franklin attempted to interfere with decisions regarding when injured players could return to the field.

Lynch’s suit also alleged that he was removed as team doctor after bringing concerns to university officials, including Athletic Director Sandy Barbour and Senior Associate Athletic Director Charmelle Green. Lynch’s suit sought more than $50,000 in damages.

The defendants, including Franklin, Barbour, Penn State University and Hershey Medical Center, seek to dismiss the suit, saying it violated Pennsylvania’s statute of limitations for filing. In a response filed this week in Dauphin County Court, the defendants said Lynch filed his suit after the 180-day deadline required by the Pennsylvania Whistleblower Law.

According to the filings, Lynch filed his suit 200 days after Kevin Black, chairman of orthopedics and rehabilitation at Hershey Medical Center, sent a Feb. 4 email to colleagues announcing that Dr. Wayne Sebastianelli would replace Lynch as Penn State’s director of athletics medicine.

Further, the defendants said that Lynch filed his suit 183 days after attending an exit interview during which he recommended changes in athletics medicine, which included limiting contact between coaches and doctors and preventing coaches from discussing injuries with players either “positively or negatively.”

The defendants also said that the suit should be dismissed because Lynch did not “suffer an adverse action” regarding his employment at Hershey Medical Center. Though no longer Penn State’s director of athletics medicine, Lynch is Hershey Medical Center’s director of orthopedic sports medicine and the site medical director of the Adult Bone and Joint Institute.

In his Feb. 4 email, Black said that the change would give Lynch the opportunity “to commit more of his time and effort to a long and expanding list of responsibilities in Hershey …”

“Because Plaintiff does not allege he was terminated and his conclusory allegations are insufficient to establish he experienced an adverse employment action, Plaintiff’s [whistleblower] claims should be dismissed,” Penn State’s response said.

In a statement emailed in August, Lynch said he filed the suit because he had “significant concern for the safety of the college athlete.” Lynch said that his recommendations to Penn State’s athletic department were not embraced “to my disappointment.”

In their response filed Monday, Penn State, Franklin, Barbour and Green said that Lynch is “disgruntled” because he was removed from his position in athletics medicine. They said Penn State’s health screenings for athletes go beyond NCAA requirements and include screenings for mental health issues.

The response added that “Franklin, himself a former student-athlete at East Stroudsburg University, has prioritized student-athlete welfare, safety, and well-being above all else.”

The response also noted the football team’s graduation rates under Franklin and its 10,000 hours of community service performed since Franklin became head coach in 2014.

“Notwithstanding the unwavering commitment to student-athlete welfare and safety demonstrated for decades by the University, Ms. Barbour, Ms. Green and Coach Franklin, the Plaintiff in this lawsuit — disgruntled because he was removed from his assignment as the Football Team Orthopedic Physician and Director of Sports Medicine — has directly called into question the reputations built by those defendants," the response said. "The University Defendants reject the Plaintiff’s attempt to denigrate decades of exemplary commitment to the University’s student-athletes and are prepared to defend against his claims.”