University Grad’s Lawsuit Over “C+” Grade Rejected By Judge
While most students would be content to shrug off a bad grade after a round of heavy drinking, Megan Thode, a graduate of Lehigh University in Pennsylvania, took a different approach by deciding to sue her alma mater to the tune of $1.3 million. But after only four days of court proceedings, Judge Emil Giordano ruled against the former student on Thursday, upholding that the grade she received was the grade she earned.
Thode’s lawsuit was in regards to a “C+” grade earned while in attendance, which allegedly forced her to abandon her pursuit of a graduate degree, and her dreams of becoming a professional counselor along with it. Thode and her lawyer, Richard J. Orloski, claim that the bad grade itself was part of a concerted effort to drive Thode out of the graduate program entirely.
At the civil trial’s start on Monday, Orloski contended that Thode was the victim of a breach of contract and sexual discrimination by her former student teacher, Amanda Carr, and the former director of the graduate program, Nicholas Ladany, due to Thode’s activism in LGBT issues.
Neil Hamburg, one of the attorneys for Lehigh University, has repudiated Thode’s claims as “nonsense.”
“I think if your honor changed the grade, you’d be the first court in the history of jurisprudence to change an academic grade,” Hamburg said to Judge Giordano.
“I’ve practiced law for longer than I’d like to [admit],” Giordano said, “and I’ve never seen something like this.”
Thode, whose father, Stephen Thode, is a professor of finance at Lehigh, has attended the university’s College of Education without having to pay any tuition since 2009. In order to continue her second and last year in the college’s counseling and human services program, Thode needed a “B” in the class.
According to Thode, the required “B” grade would’ve been awarded if not for a “zero” given in participation for the course taught by Carr, which Thode claims was the result of a conspiracy against her after Thode and three other students complained to Carr about having to find a supplemental internship partway through the course.
Thode also alleged that Carr had negative feelings toward her as a result of having campaigned for gay and lesbian rights, which the attorneys for Lehigh have in turn claimed to be entirely baseless due to Carr’s past counseling of gay and lesbian people in her career, as well as having a close family member who is a lesbian.
Hamburg and fellow attorney for Lehigh, Michael Sacks, went on to further counter Thode’s claims by saying that she was only a good student on paper and was not yet ready to progress in the program. Hamburg and Sacks also said that Thode often engaged in “unproffessional” conduct like swearing in class and having emotional outbursts.
According to Carr, who has completed her own doctorate and now teaches at Lehigh under the name Amanda Eckhardt, it was for this behavior that Thode received the zero in participation due to the level of decorum required in counseling services.
“She has to get through the program. She has to meet the academic standards,” Hamburg said.
After the grade was issued, Thode then attempted to file internal greivances against Carr and Ladany, which ultimately were dismissed by the school. During meetings for investigating the grievances, Thode arrived with her father and demanded that Carr deliver a written apology and a “plan for compensating me financially.”
When Thode was questioned by Sacks during Monday’s court proceedings, the Lehigh attorney emphasized how her father’s position at the university had not only supplied her with a free education, but also granted her employment at the school throughout her tenure right up until the day Thode graduated with a master’s degree in human development.
“Even after you sued Lehigh, you were getting free tuition and working for Lehigh?” Sacks asked.
“Yes,” Thode acknowledged.
According to Orloski, the plaintiff’s request for $1.3 is the difference in lifetime earnings that a state certificate in counseling would have provided as opposed to her current position as a drug-and-alcohol counselor.
“She’s literally lost a career,” said Orloski.
In the ruling, Judge Giordano stated that Thode had no evidence of discrimination, nor had the university breached any contract by issuing her a “C+” grade. Additionally, Judge Giordano said that while he was sympathetic to Thode’s experience as a father, the evidence submitted by Thode failed to establish that her grade was truly the result of any malpractice or malfeasance on part of Carr or Lehigh University, and was instead ”purely academic evaluation.”
“We feel very badly for Megan Thode,” said Gary Sasso, dean of Lehigh’s College of Education. “We hope that in the future she goes forward and does good things. We remain open to conversations with her about her readmission into that program, into our program, and into that class. Nobody really won in this case. We felt like it shouldn’t have gotten this far, but it did.”
Thode is the latest case in a recent wave of students who have taken legal action against their former schools due to allegedly “unfair” grades in recent years. Cases include a Montreal student that sued Concord University after having his grade reduced from an “A-” to a “B+,” and two Texas Southern University Students who sued for receiving “D” grades that lead to their dismissal for failing to maintain a 2.0 average.