A former tenured professor at the University of Scranton filed a federal lawsuit last week against the private Jesuit university after it fired him earlier this year allegedly for essentially refusing to sign a statement saying that he had been vaccinated against Covid-19.
In his court filing, Dr. Benjamin Bishop, a professor of computer science for 19 years at the university, provided proof of his Covid-19 vaccination showing he had completed both parts of the first round of shots by May 2021. But he refused the university’s demands for the signed statement, going on to say the lawsuit arose out of the university’s “flagrant disregard for the constitutional rights of American citizens in its attempt to compel vaccinations.”
Bishop’s lawsuit lands as dozens of similar suits around Covid policies continue to unfold. Less than a month ago, a state court ordered New York City to reinstate with back pay more than 1,700 municipal workers who had been fired for not being vaccinated.
“I am opposed to mandates particularly in universities, and I have some reasons for that,” Bishop told Broad + Liberty. “Basically I have some objections in terms of the typical objections you see with mandates in terms of personal freedom and autonomy, privacy, that are just kind of across-the-board sort of things.”
As for the core conflict, Bishop says the issue is slightly more nuanced because the university didn’t ask for proof of vaccination, but instead asked faculty to sign a statement affirming their vaccination status.
“I was fired because of non-compliance with the health and safety policy, which is what the university says,” Bishop added. “The provost made a statement that I was a danger to the health and safety of campus. Now, I’m actually vaccinated — the lawsuit lays that out. So, that was a false statement.”
Bishop also contends in the filing that the university selectively enforced its Covid policies, allowing “faculty members and visitors to the University to violate the [Covid-19] plan in regards to masking by walking through the university campus without even requiring masks and without knowing vaccination status.”
As proof of that claim, Bishop included a photo that showed university leadership posing maskless with a visitor, alongside emails with administrators discussing the situation.
The university “does not comment on pending litigation, a spokesperson said. Requests for comment from two other defendants named in the suit were either not returned or were not successful.
Bishop also alleges that political differences stoked the confrontation. He says he drew the administration’s ire with his vocal opposition to the health policies, including an editorial posted to the university website in September 2021.
“As the University moves to begin dismissal proceedings against me, it is reasonable to think about the nature of tenure and the action that the University is considering,” he wrote. “Isn’t the point of tenure to protect faculty who speak for controversial minority positions? Such speech can involve symbolic actions like burning a draft card, smoking pot on the steps of Old Main at PSU, or throwing a vaccine attestation form in the trash. If the idea of tenure is undermined, the University could become an echo chamber for mainstream viewpoints.”
Now that Covid-19 vaccines have been publicly available for a little more than a year and half, lawsuits can be found in any corner of the country in which current and former employees are challenging their employers on health safety plans, especially in academia.
Bishop held out a case from Penn State as a counter example of why he believes his firing was unjust. In that case, an untenured professor was alleged to have assaulted someone at a demonstration in support of Covid vaccinations, and the facts of that incident remain contested.
“Penn State eventually stopped the disciplinary process. And my understanding is that he certainly still has his job. To me, it seems like a relatively clear example of a sort of double standard where if you happen to have the wrong perspective, the wrong set of opinions, um, you know, you could be fired for refusing to say something about your personal medical history, which is my case,” Bishop said.
The lawsuit was filed in the United States District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania, and Bishop is represented by Kepner, Kepner & Corba, P.C., located in Berwick.
Update: The original version of this article said Dr. Bishop had been with the university for 20 years, when in fact it is 19 years. Additionally, the original article said Bishop and other faculty were asked to sign a sworn statement. It is unclear as to whether one had to swear to the affirmation. The article has been updated to reflect these changes.
Todd Shepherd is Broad + Liberty’s chief investigative reporter. Send him tips at firstname.lastname@example.org, or use his encrypted email at email@example.com. @shepherdreports