WASHINGTON, November 13, 2013 —The legal case of a student suing her university for $1.3 million over a grade is back in court.
Megan Thode, a graduate student, unsuccessfully sued Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, after receiving a C+ in a course in which she needed to receive a B in order to go on to the next academic level. Thode claims that the lower grade ended her goal of becoming a licensed counselor. According to The Morning Call, she instead got a Master’s degree in human development and works as a drug and alcohol counselor.
Thode’s attorney, Richard J. Orloski, asked the judge on Tuesday to reverse the decision made in February or grant his client a new trial.
The debate centers on Thode receiving a zero for class participation. According to Amanda Eckhardt, a student teacher in the class in question at the time and now a professor at Lehigh University, the zero dropped Thode’s grade in the class a full letter grade.
Eckhardt admitted that no other student in the university had ever received a zero, out of a possible 25, for class participation, but she believes Thode’s grade was warranted alleging the student had outbursts in class asking for aspirin for a headache and calling another professor at the university a “pompous ass.”
Eckhardt claimed that Thode did not participate appropriately in the class and was given a letter informing her of that fact and providing her with steps necessary to raise her grade.
Eckardt testified that Thode became emotionally unstable when she received the letter and said that she would need to speak with her father and possibly obtain a lawyer.
Thode’s father, Stephen, has been a finance professor at the university for 31 years. Professor Thode did try to intervene on his daughter’s behalf but to no avail. He felt that his daughter was being graded unfairly since she attended and participated in every class.
Thode did file an internal grievance with the school but when that was unsuccessful, turned to the legal system.
Thode and her attorney believe that she was given the lower grade for two personal reasons, and pointed out that other than the disputed class, she was an A student.
The first issue, the plaintiffs point to is the belief that Amanda Carr, the class professor and Nicholas Ladany, the director of the degree program were angry with Thode because she had complained when she and three other students were forced to find supplemental internships halfway through the semester.
The second allegation is that Carr was biased against Thode because she was a vocal advocate for gay and lesbian rights. The University dismisses this claim because Carr has close relatives who are homosexual and has counseled members of the gay and lesbian community.
Eckardt did testify that although she did believe that a marriage should be between a man and a woman, she would never let any personal beliefs cloud her judgments on someone’s academic performance. She went on to say that her sister is gay and that she would participate in her sister’s wedding if she were asked.
The University claims that it refuses to change a grade based on threats because it would lower the school’s academic standards. Lehigh’s attorney, Neil Hamburg, also questioned if the lawsuit was actually being encouraged by an ungrateful Stephen Thode as revenge for not being made a full professor by the university despite two of his children receiving their education free of charge as part of a benefit package.
In February, the judge ruled that Thode failed to prove that the grade she received was based on anything “purely academic evaluation” and her professor’s conclusion that she was “simply not ready to move on emotionally and academically to the next level.”
Although he also said that he could not understand how she received such a grade but he was bound by case law, and there was no precedent to award in favor of Thode.
Thode had asked for $1.3 million based on the testimony of Pamela O’Neill, a financial expert, who stated in court that this figure is the difference someone could make if they were a licensed counselor rather than having a Master’s in Human Development or psychology, as Thode does, over a lifetime.
The judge expects to rule on the post trial motion within a few weeks but it is believed that regardless of how he rules, the case will be appealed to the Supreme Court.
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