Lehigh University student got a C+ and now seeks $1.3 million in lawsuit

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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.

The person responsible for the dreaded C+ was Amanda Eckhardt (who then had the last name Carr). She gave Thode a big, fat zero out of 25 possible points for class participation in the course, reports The Express-Times out of nearby Easton. Consequently, Thode — who typically earned high grades, her lawyer says — lost a full letter grade.

Thode’s lawyer, Richard J. 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 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.

Lehigh University obviously disagrees with Orloski.

“Lehigh is defending the right of the University and our faculty to exercise their professional judgment as educators when grading students and evaluating their academic work,” Jennifer Tucker, a university representative, told The Daily Caller. “We have a responsibility to evaluate students fairly and accurately as to their attainment of competency in their field and to grant a Lehigh degree only when Lehigh’s standards of competency are met.”

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.

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.

Eckhardt said that she gave Thode a letter explaining the changes she needed to make to get an acceptably high grade in the class. The Express-Times reports. However, Eckhardt alleged, Thode was not interested in modifying her behavior.

Eckhardt testified that Thode’s response to the letter was,  “I need to get a lawyer,” the Express-Times notes.

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.

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