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Lehigh Grad Loses Lawsuit Over C+ Grade

A Northampton County judge ruled Thursday against former Lehigh student claiming damages because of a poor grade.

A judge has ruled against a local woman suing Lehigh University for $1.3 million because, she claims, a poor grade in one class diminished her lifetime earning potential.

The "plaintiff failed to establish that the university based the awarded grade of C+ on anything other than purely academic reasons," the judge said in his ruling Thursday, according to a WFMZ report.

A trial on the civil lawsuit brought by 27-year-old Megan Thode of Nazareth began on Monday in front of Northampton County Judge Emil Giordano, who on Wednesday chastised both sides for being unable to reach an out-of-court settlement, according to The Morning Call.

Thode claimed sexual discrimination in the case. Lehigh University countered that Thode behaved unprofessionally—including swearing in class—and hadn’t earned the right to move on in the program. Thode took the stand Thursday and denied yelling a swear word at her teacher, the Morning Call reported.

The $1.3 million is the difference between what Thode would have earned with the degree she was seeking as opposed to her current lifetime earning potential, according to her attorney, Richard J. Orloski.

Thode, 27, was attending graduate classes in Lehigh’s School of Education tuition free because her father, Stephen Thode, is a Lehigh finance professor.

The C+ grade given during the fall 2009 semester forced Thode out of the graduate counseling program, ending her dream of becoming a licensed professional counselor. She instead got a master’s degree in human development and works as a drug and alcohol counselor, according to The Morning Call.

Orloski charged that Thode was held back because she complained about having to get a supplemental internship in the middle of the semester and also because she is an outspoken supporter of gay and lesbian marriage rights.

Thode’s student teacher for the class, Amanda Eckhardt, dismissed that claim in testimony, according to The Express Times. While she believes that marriage should be between a man and a woman, she has a sister who is a lesbian and would be the matron of honor at her wedding if she were asked, the newspaper reported.

However, Eckhardt also testified that she gave Thode an unprecedented zero points out of a possible 25 for class participation, which knocked down her final grade by a full letter, The Express Times reported.

Brett Wells February 17, 2013 at 01:42 PM
If PA had a "loser pays" approach to lawsuits, we could avoid frivolous suits like this one.
John G. Lewis February 17, 2013 at 03:57 PM
John Schubert: Yes, that is another good point. Public spotlight on people lives. Too much so. The Dad here, a professor at Lehigh himself, was just trying to help his daughter out, and the defendant instructor did not at all invite this. But what surprised me a little here was how quickly everyone seemed to jump onto the University's side, and criticized the student. I think that probably (without knowing all the facts, charges, and various 'proofs').... the judge's verdict was correct, but I simply believe that an appeal of this sort is, in principle, vindicable. J. G. Lewis '90
Ruby Montana February 17, 2013 at 05:11 PM
I believe I heard on a TV report, that her dad "encouraged" the lawsuit. He was shown in video, walking with her to court. Everyone was quick to jump to Lehigh's side because her request was an over-reaction. She didn't make the grade. Period. It happens all the time, all across this country. The fact is, she was good enough to get an advanced degree in something else and find work. At some point you must learn to grow up, ask yourself if you have any control over your life and get on with it. School is a good place to begin. She learned an expensive and embarrassing lesson. NOW, maybe, if she applies herself, she can be successful. Maybe. By her actions, my guess is she would have made an awful Social Worker. That position requires patience, thoughtfulness and an ability to understand problems of others. It's not all about "me".
joan February 17, 2013 at 05:37 PM
Really. I know many others who would have loved the free education. Who would of taken personal responsibility in the matter. Grow up and move on you are 27 yrs old. Not in hs anymore. Daddy can't fix everything.
joan February 17, 2013 at 05:38 PM
Tooshay! Now get rid of unappreciative employees!
John February 17, 2013 at 05:42 PM
Here, here! In Florida, the loser pays. Makes some think before you sue.....of course if you are living on entitlements, and don't have the means to pay...then you keep suing until you hit the proverbial jackpot.....I recall a case where this happened, where a man frivolously sued multiple times. The classic payback, after he won his case, he married a woman.....she sued him for 50% of everything.....payback!
joan February 17, 2013 at 05:42 PM
It' s called personal responsibility. Obviously she never learned that in school. Every action has an outcome. In her case, not too good.
Rasterone February 17, 2013 at 06:47 PM
Perhaps it's time that Lehigh trustees revisit the wisdom of tuition remission for graduate programs ..especially those of a professional nature which prepare one for supposedly high value careers. I know some institution have clamped down ....may be time for Lehigh to revisit same.
Rasterone February 17, 2013 at 07:22 PM
I wonder what it costs for expert testimony from a partner at Grant Thompson as to voodo math to support a $1,300,000 lifetime salary loss .Partner compensation is probably in $400,000 yr range at that firm so the billing rate might be in $800 /hr ..must be nice to be able to afford that level of support while claiming to be hurt financially? If I run out of things to do Ill go read that report ..sure to learn a lot.
Ruby Montana February 17, 2013 at 10:33 PM
My guess is, if you think, really think, you are getting a 1.3 million payoff, what's $800.00 an hour, LOL?! Perhaps she should not have sued for the lifetime earnings of her preferred job, but instead, sued for that amount MINUS what she will make now. That might have softened her impression, a bit. If she couldn't figure THAT out, she shouldn't have a degree at all!
Proud to be an American February 18, 2013 at 02:41 AM
Kudos to the judge. Now this is what you call bad parenting and not giving your child enough attention when they were younger. These people are Disgraceful. Karma works in wonderful ways.
Ruby Montana February 18, 2013 at 05:23 PM
This is true. The young woman has failed at learning ... all the way around. How you deal with a "difficult" person (the instructor, perhaps?) how you respond to challenge (the class?) and how you react to disappointment (that C+) is all part of learning and growing up. She never had it in her to do Social Work. Good call by Lehigh.
John G. Lewis February 18, 2013 at 05:59 PM
Come on now... Have you never in your life been given an unjust grade, an unjust consideration, an incorrect analysis or judgement? You call for the young lady to grow up... True, we should consider innocence of wrong before it is imputed: but this goes both ways. I am not necessarily defending anyone here, but I am surprised by the quick, and not fully reflective, reactions of many people to this case. (...) I believe an in principle appeal of this sort (that is, by the young lady on a grade/degree issue), to a hopefully higher authority (being the US Government), is not only permissible, but is capable of vindication. - J. G. Lewis '90
Ruby Montana February 18, 2013 at 06:35 PM
We ALL have been given an "unjust grade". Of course, that, itself, is quite objective. What surprises me is that she let it go that far. Keeping a grade average to get a degree is the norm. Students near and far go through the anxiety of doing so. How did it get so close to the wire for her? At what point did she realize she was "plus" away from failure? It suggests that she was already in "scholastic trouble" with the degree, let alone that one class. If you are at that point of make-or-break, it's time to use honey and not vinegar. That's a lesson to learn. She, apparently, was blaming her grade on everything from her support of L/G marriage to the supplemental instruction. It rings false. It is adversary in tone, and it did her no favors. Next time, she may use all this a LEARNING experience that did cost her money, and behave in a different fashion.
John G. Lewis February 18, 2013 at 07:10 PM
Ruby: Yes... you raise a good point with your honey/vinegar metaphor. - John
Ruby Montana February 18, 2013 at 07:13 PM
Sigh. Live and learn. Live and learn! (By the way, I meant SUBjective, LOL!)
John G. Lewis February 18, 2013 at 09:30 PM
Good advice!!
Ruby Montana February 18, 2013 at 09:36 PM
:)
Rasterone February 18, 2013 at 10:19 PM
Nobody got a flunk --she passed --that fact that she passed but the grade was not good enough for other things is tough ..next thing somebody will want to hand out 70s for merely showing up a few times and not making too big a fuss before falling asleep in class --whoops --sorry, some institutions already do that --makes those graduation statistics look good! .
Rasterone February 19, 2013 at 02:03 AM
Ms Thode is entitled to be heard ..that is her right..and if she had had better poker cards as did one young women a few miles east who merely suffered non renewal of a 1 Year contract when it expired ..she settled for something over $600,000 ...a clear local example ...I don't fault her to try but I think justice was served........I.d still like to read the voodo finance study that supported the $1,300,000 claim....just in case I ever get a C- in my quest for a mail order PhD.
John February 19, 2013 at 11:49 AM
@Rasterone -- all good points as to why PA needs to put the burden on the responsibility of the loser of such cases. The problem we have is that there is no cost to rolling the dice in our system...if I win the lottery, great, if not, who cares. There needs to be skin in the game, as we all know we can find some slouch attorney to take on ANYTHING. Although this case was lost, the attorney received national attention, even under the frivolous suit in this case. So who really was the loser...as always, the winning Defendant who had to defend itself for no qualified reason. The rules need to change to help the innocent, and a database needs to be developed regarding the sleaze counselors who demonstrate consistent abuse of the system by accepting such ludicrous cases, with significant penalty. I don believe in taking away a right to sue, however there needs to be consequences when doing so. I am certain I will be getting pushback from my friends at ACLU, regarding limiting those who cannot afford to sue, however, if they have a great case, they need to take the risk. That's what 'skin in the game' means.
Rasterone February 19, 2013 at 12:56 PM
Actually our British ancestors use such a loser pays system and it can have the predictable impact of icing the little person's ability to take on the big guys and making them afraid to seek a day in court. Now in several areas in US there is a deliberate effort to seek equal access to justice for the little guy and if the employer or whatever is proven wrong then the employer pays , such as EEOC and ADA matters and in education as to matters of a "free appropriate public education" covered by an IEP or 504 plan.
Rasterone February 19, 2013 at 01:00 PM
One thing for sure , were I back doing executive recruiting and any background checking I'd avoid certain candidates with a 10' pole if they came before me. --a task a whole lot easier than it was say 25 years ago.
John G. Lewis February 19, 2013 at 02:19 PM
Phillyboy: Instead of commenting on the justness of Lehigh's general policy, and the judgement in Ms. Thode case, and of her life... I would rather like to note the unmerited, unrighteous judgements of our own society, as you raise, in your first post. (As with a 15 year veteran being dismissed...) A presumed impropriety somewhere (n this instance, Lehigh) does not justify it somewhere else (in the work place).... Anyway... people *are not worth money*, ok? It is rather more proper to say that an individual's work is of higher quality, conceivably more value, than someone else's... Too much materialism in America today. I actually like the fact that Lehigh has (and in the past Universities generally have had) an ethical component to their grading.. which they can bring to the fore when needed/when called for. - John G. Lewis
Rasterone February 19, 2013 at 02:58 PM
Next somebody will want to take me to task for handing out a grade that was perhaps a shade on the high side based on actual performance? ( Perhaps barred by the statute of limitation ) After all grades might have opened doors or kept doors open for a marginal student. Oh, I do recall a suit about a student who got decent grades but apparently did not learn enough to proceed to his chose field and he argued (unsuccessfully) that it was school's fault he didn't learn enough.
John G. Lewis February 19, 2013 at 03:17 PM
Rasterone: Are you serious? - JGL
Rasterone February 19, 2013 at 03:36 PM
Serious about what? Clearly if somebody hands out unearned higher grades that could impact the persons ability to get ahead of others in a competitive line or stay in a line or in general diminish the quality/perceived value of that diploma or whatever it is. If XYU hands out diplomas to warm mushrooms then I am going to put applicants with degrees from XYU into a shredder file or at least be forced to examine other measures of possible qualification? At a time when a HS diploma does not assure you the holder can read a tape measure or tell time or write two coherent sentences are you willing to assume that a 4 year degree from Mudflat U does either? And as to second point--yes I am aware of a school in CT that got sued because student did not learn enough (to proceed to a career in football!) despite getting a diploma. Handing out diplomas to make the institution look good is not a lost art.
John G. Lewis February 20, 2013 at 03:04 PM
Rasterone: Yes... I vaguely recollect too, that a school or University was sued because it did not provide the perceived correct, or proper, instruction... Happened 10 years or so ago, maybe less. Unfortunate, all the law suites in today's world. But there is mistreatment too, very much so, let us keep that in mind. I am not saying Thode was justified, or the University was not... But immorality in the work place certainly will not justify any thought, or real, immorality in Colleges and Universities. It's been a nice discussion everyone! - J. G. Lewis, LU Class of 1990
Rasterone February 20, 2013 at 04:08 PM
Grade games are likely to get worse and more costly . I have in my hand an edict written by a licensed professional that she divines to herself the right to change students grades as may be issued by others. She lives near Bethlehem ; I do not know if she is a product of that fine institution LU but such would not be unreasonable possibility The basic tone of her edict is to induce staff to issue higher grades than the student might otherwise get on basis of real world learning performances. With educators like that we are in for some very tough times!
John G. Lewis February 20, 2013 at 04:33 PM
Rasterone: I certainly do not at all agree with pandering to the students, as you suggest, nor with letting the administrators do whatever they deem 'fit and proper', as seems to be increasingly the case for Lehigh. That is another story, another topic. Who will judge the magistrates? - John

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