A Pennsylvania-area judge ruled Thursday against Megan Thode, a former graduate student of Lehigh University who sued to have her C-plus grade raised. She sought $1.3 million in damages and claimed that she received the low mark because she advocated for same-sex marriage.
Northampton County Judge Emil Giordano ultimately ruled that Thode's C-plus grade, which she received as a result of a 2009 master's therapist field work course at Lehigh University, will stand, saying that he found no breach of contract or discrimination on behalf of the university.
Those representing Lehigh University, a private research college located in Bethlehem, Pa., have expressed satisfaction in Giordano's ruling, saying that the judge allowed universities to set the bar of work for their students.
Gary Sasso, dean of Lehigh's College of Education, told The Morning Call that he believes the judge's ruling affirms that "the university faculty have the responsibility to fairly evaluate the work of their students, and that academic rigor should not be compromised."
"We feel very badly for Megan Thode," Sasso continued, adding, "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."
One of Lehigh University's lawyers, Neil Hamburg, argued during the legal proceedings that a previous Supreme Court ruling prevents judges from overriding academic decisions, except for in the rarest of cases, and overriding Thode's grade would undermine the country's educational system.
"The grades are what the academics in the academic institutions say they are," Hamburg told the judge.
"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 added.
Thode, a 27-year-old native of Nazareth, Pa., and daughter of Lehigh finance professor Stephen Thode, claimed that the C-plus she received from student-teacher Amanda Carr in her 2009 graduate-level therapist internship course prevented her from becoming a state licensed therapist.
Thode sought $1.3 million in damages because this was the estimated amount of earnings she believed she would have been making if she had not received her C-plus grade.
Carr reportedly gave Thode a B-plus on all written assignments, but gave her a zero in class participation, thus lowering her final grade to a C-plus.
Thode, who was attending the university tuition-free, was not able to continue on to her next course of her field work requirement due to her low grade, and subsequently switched her major to human development.
According to The Morning Call, Thode's lawyer, Richard J. Orloski, argued that Thode was discriminated against by Carr and Nicholas Ladany, former director of the degree program, because she had previously complained for having to pursue a supplemental internship and because she was an outspoken, pro-gay and lesbian advocate.
The lawsuit stated that Ladany was "personally annoyed and agitated that a female student" would complain to him regarding her grade, according to CNN.
Attorney Orloski, meanwhile, argued how much the grade has affected her future. "She's literally lost a career," Orloski asserted, according to The Morning Call.
According to LehighValleyLive.com, Orloski told the judge that the financial aspect of the lawsuit was not as important to his client as the grade change, as she hoped to still pursue a career as a licensed therapist.
Thode reportedly met with Carr after receiving the grade in an attempt to have it changed, but Carr kept the grade as is.
Carr testified during the trial, arguing that she stood by the grade, as Thode allegedly exhibited unprofessional behavior in the classroom, including swearing, and therefore received a low participation grade.
University lawyers also argued that Carr was not discriminatory on the basis of sexual orientation because she had a close family member who was a lesbian and because she previously counseled gay and lesbian patients.
Thode graduated from Lehigh University with a human development master's degree and currently works as an alcohol and drug counselor, which is not a state-certified therapist career.