Former Queen’s professor sues for defamation

Matthew Strauss was allegedly constructively dismissed, claims academic freedom

The statement of claim was filed on Oct. 20.
Credit: 
Haldimand Norfolk Health Unit

Dr. Matthew Strauss, a former assistant professor of medicine at Queen’s University, filed a lawsuit against Queen’s and Dr. Stephen Archer, Department of Medicine head.

Strauss filled the lawsuit over alleged defamatory language used about him following social media posts, and articles where he spoke out against COVID-19 restrictions. 

During his employment at Queen’s, Strauss held privileges as a general internal medicine physician and an ICU specialist at Kingston General Hospital (KGH).

Strauss resides in Guelph, Ontario and has been the Acting Medical Officer of Health for Haldimand-Norfolk since September 2021.

Strauss oversees medical policy guidance for the jurisdiction's health protection and promotion efforts. He participates in committee work, media communication, and stakeholder engagement.

Strauss pleaded in the statement of claim that Queen’s is entitled to pay in lieu of reasonable notice at common law, representing six month’s wages. 

Strauss said in the statement of claim he was “constructively dismissed” from his employment and he was entitled to coverage under the group benefits plan for the duration of the reasonable notice period.

Strauss filed against Queen’s alone for $25,000 in moral damages. $50,000 of damages were claimed for aggravated and punitive damages from his allegation that Queen’s breached its duty of good faith towards Strauss during his constructive dismissal.

Strauss’ filed joint claims against Queen’s and Archer for $500,000 in general damages for defamation, special damages in an amount to be determined at trial, and $25,000 for alleged aggravated and punitive damages.

The statement of claim asked the defendants to remove any allegedly defamatory words used towards him from all media in their possession or control.

This statement of claim arose from Strauss’ allegations Archer published malicious, aggressive, condescending, and defamatory statements which Strauss believes caused his constructive dismissal from Queen’s.

Strauss claimed Archer marginalized his right to freedom of expression and academic freedom. The lawsuit alleges this was done when Archer allegedly expressed or implied that Strauss was more self-centred than in service of patients or trainees.

Archer allegedly has stated Strauss promulgated false information. Strauss previously made claims on Twitter about the effectiveness of COVID-19 policies such as mask mandates and lockdowns which were deemed controversial. 

On July 1, 2019, Strauss commenced employment with Queen’s in the capacity of an Assistant Professor of Medicine and as a general internal medicine physician at KGH.

Strauss alleged in the statement of claim Archer—his direct supervisor—and other Queen’s employees harassed him continuously and relentlessly through verbal and written abuse, humiliation, and belittlement.

In April 2021 the statement of claim said Archer and others at Queen’s sent correspondence noting that Strauss' views could allegedly threaten the health and safety of the community and region, saying his public commentary negatively impacts clinical clerks and residents.

The correspondences noted Strauss’ conduct could have an impact on his medical license and hospital privileges. 

The statement of claim makes the assertion that to-date, no one at Queen’s including Archer have identified false claims made by Strauss.  

In the statement of claim, Strauss said his goal is to use the action as means to restore his reputation within the academic and medical community—while compensating for the reputational and financial harm he has allegedly suffered. 

In June of 2021, Archer sent correspondence to Strauss advising that his contract would not be renewed at the end of his term of employment in June of 2022.

As early as October of 2020, Strauss was sending emails to the Dean of Health Sciences saying Dr. Archer’s email made him worry about the viability of his career at Queen’s, according to the statement of claim. 

Strauss believes there are more defamatory words used about him which are in the exclusive knowledge of the defendants. He believes these words will be made known through the discovery process.

In the statement of claim, Strauss and his legal team said by publishing the alleged defamatory words, Archer knew the words would impact Strauss’ status in the medical community. 

The University provided a statement to The Journal regarding the lawsuit. Archer declined to comment when The Journal contacted him.

“The University is aware of the statement of claim filed with the court, which represents only the plaintiff’s perspective.  Should the University be required to file a defence then it will, and that will outline the University’s perspective. The University denies that Dr. Strauss has been constructively dismissed or defamed,” the University said.

“As this is a Human Resources matter, the university will not be commenting further.”

David Elmaleh, Strauss’ lawyer, sent The Journal a comment on behalf of his client. He said Strauss’ would have preferred the matter remain a private dispute between the parties involved.

“His track record amply demonstrates, Dr. Strauss is a firm believer in academic freedom and the free exchange of ideas, particularly on matters of significant public interest such as the pandemic response,” Elmaleh said.

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