A graduate of Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pa. has sued the school for $1.3 million because she is unhappy that she got a C+ in a class in 2009.
Megan Thode, 27, says the grade ruined her dream of becoming a licensed professional counselor, reports The Morning Call, an Allentown-based newspaper. Her civil suit alleges breach of contract and sexual discrimination. It contends that the grade was part of a broader attempt to force her to abandon the graduate degree she was pursuing.
Trial proceedings began Monday in Northampton County and could last the rest of this week.
Thode was in the last year of a master’s in counseling and human services in Lehigh’s College of Education. She needed a B in the course at issue — a fieldwork class — to qualify for another round of field work, which was required to obtain the degree.
Thode’s lawyer, Richard J. Orloski, maintains that she deserved a higher grade. However, her professor, Amanda Carr, awarded her a big, fat zero for classroom participation. That zero brought her grade down.
Orloski has also alleged that Carr and Nicholas Ladany (who was the director of the degree program) conspired against Thode because she and three other students were critical when they were had to search for supplemental internships midway through a semester.
The suit also charges that the course professor treated Thode unfairly because of Thode’s support for gay and lesbian causes — a claim Lehigh flatly disputes, according to The Morning Call.
Thode did graduate from Lehigh with a master’s degree, but not the one she aspired to have. According to Orloski, the $1.3 million Thode seeks in damages represents the money she’ll lose over the course of her career because she isn’t able to be a state-certified counselor.
“She’s literally lost a career,” said Orloski, according to The Morning Call.
Neil Hamburg, an attorney for Lehigh, says Thode’s lawsuit is outrageous.
“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 told the judge presiding over the case. “She has to get through the program. She has to meet the academic standards.”
Hamburg pointed out that Thode is the daughter of Lehigh finance professor Stephen Thode. One of the perks of that relationship was that she was able to enroll in the Lehigh graduate program tuition-free. The school provided her with a job as well. She also got to attend York College of Pennsylvania at no charge as an undergraduate thanks to her Lehigh connections, says The Call.
Thode was on the witness stand Monday. Another Lehigh attorney, Michael Sacks, grilled her about her free ride.
“Even after you sued Lehigh, you were getting free tuition and working for Lehigh?” Sacks queried.
“Yes,” Thode answered.
Lehigh’s lawyers allege that Thode’s behavior in class was not acceptable for someone seeking a master’s degree in counseling. On at least one occasion, they said, she used profanity in class. Another time, she broke down crying.
Before filing her lawsuit, Thode filed complaints with the university over the C+ grade, showing up at meetings with her father, the finance professor. She sought a written apology from Carr, the course instructor, and a “plan for compensating me financially,” notes The Morning Call.