Grad student says C-plus cost her $1.3 million in lost wages. Takes her case to court but judge is wary.

report cardI have known students to complain bitterly about grades and to disparage their professors on Internet rating sites.

But a grad student in Pennsylvania is taking her outrage to the courtroom. Before you attack the student, read the details. There are some odd elements to this case.

The woman was an otherwise A student who attended the class and participated in class discussions. And Megan Thode had an expert in her own home; her father teaches at the college, Lehigh University, and testified that he was stunned that a professor would give a student a zero for participation when the student showed up and talked.

Today, the judge in the case criticized both sides, according to the Morning Call, which is the local newspaper in the area covering the trial. (Here is a good piece by the Call on today’s proceedings.)

From the story:

“It’s regrettable that this case hasn’t been resolved,” Judge Emil Giordano said in the third day of a civil trial in which Megan Thode is seeking $1.3 million and a higher grade, claiming breach of contract and sexual discrimination.

In addressing the lawyers on Wednesday, Giordano said he approached them on the first day of trial with what he believed was a reasonable settlement: that Thode, 27, of Nazareth, be allowed back into the program, and be allowed to take the class again.Orloski and Neil Hamburg, an attorney for Lehigh, declined to comment outside of court on whether one side or the other rejected the proposal.

Giordano’s comments came just before the lunch break, and as he questioned whether he has legal authority to order a grade raised, as Orloski {Thode’s attorney} seeks.

Giordano said he has looked at cases in Pennsylvania and nationally and has been unable to find one in which a judge had done so.

Giordano said, “I remain unconvinced that the judiciary should be injecting itself in the academic process.”

According to a story on AJC.com:

Thode took the class in fall of 2009. Her instructor, Amanda Eckhardt, testified this week that she stood by the grade, saying Thode failed to behave professionally and thus earned zero out of 25 points in class participation, bumping her down a full letter grade.

“I … believed she received the grade she earned,” Eckhardt said.

The C-plus prevented Thode, an otherwise A student, from going on to the next class and advancing in her professional therapist studies, according to The Express-Times of Easton. She wound up getting a master’s degree in human development instead.

Her attorney, Richard Orloski, argued Eckhardt targeted Thode because she is an outspoken advocate for gay marriage. Eckhardt testified that while she believes marriage is between a man and woman, she would never allow her personal views to influence her treatment of students. She said Thode had outbursts in class, did not participate appropriately, was emotionally unstable and failed to heed a warning letter.

Stephen Thode, the plaintiff’s father and a longtime finance professor at Lehigh, testified on his daughter’s behalf and said her participation score was highly irregular. “I have never heard of a case, not just at Lehigh, where a student achieved a zero in class participation where they attended and participated in every class,” he said.

–from Maureen Downey,for the AJC Get Schooled blog

59 comments Add your comment

bootney farnsworth

February 13th, 2013
2:15 pm

what an amazing pantload.

seems she got the grade she deserved, and is outraged her inability to behave in a civil fashion and do what was required actually had consequences.

she doesn’t deserved money, or even a 2nd chance. she deserves a spanking and to put send to her room without supper.

sexual discrimination? pleeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeze.
gay marriage hater? strawman of the week. next semester it would be something else.
breach of contract? very few are contractually obligated to a grade. its (ready now) earned.

bootney farnsworth

February 13th, 2013
2:17 pm

perhaps she might try apologizing for her behavior.
might be a good first step.

Maureen Downey

February 13th, 2013
2:18 pm

@bootney, Not sure it is that clear cut. I would like to hear from college faculty. This strikes me as an odd situation.
I taught college and community college for several years and would never give a student who came to class and participated a zero. A zero was reserved for the students who did not show up.
Maureen

Hogwash

February 13th, 2013
2:27 pm

Most professional or graduate programs require students to sign a code of conduct or code of professional ethics. I had to for my Master’s program. It clearly stated that failure to maintain professionalism or civility in class discussion would be grounds for dismissal from the program. If she couldn’t behave professionally, she doesn’t need to be in the field.

agent

February 13th, 2013
2:30 pm

Perfect example of the liberal mantra…my life sucks and it is your fault.

William Casey

February 13th, 2013
2:34 pm

Maureen is exactly right. Awarding a ZERO for “participation” is sending a message. It’s up to the judge to decide whether that “message” was legal and ethical. There are proper and improper ways to participate. It’s not clear from the information provided which is the case. Some “outbursts” are provoked by a prof continually speaking over or cutting off student comment. I’ve seen this happen.

Prof

February 13th, 2013
2:42 pm

“Class participation” is supposed to encourage classroom discussion of the material. I myself have never given any points for it (although many of my colleagues do to encourage students to speak up in class) because it has always seemed like too subjective a score…as this case seems to illustrate. Class participation should be a contribution in some way to the discussion going on to gain credit.

Simply “participating in class” is not enough, if the participation (as seems here) is disruptive and off the topic. I have had a student who “participated” all right (”it’s too warm in here–let’s all take our clothes off!”), and later had a mental breakdown. However, I certainly would have warned Megan Thode right away if her “class participation” proved to be as disruptive as her instructor here testifies. But the teacher evidently did send her a warning letter.

It’s hard to know what to do with a student who increasingly “acts out” in class, for then the other students are losing out too as the class goes off-track. In my own case above, I had him removed from class by the Dean as violating our policy on “disruptive students.” Perhaps this teacher should also have done this, rather than let the class proceed to the end.

Inman Parker

February 13th, 2013
2:43 pm

Difficult for me to understand why this is a legal matter. What next in court?

Maude

February 13th, 2013
2:46 pm

I have several post graduate degrees and have sat in many classes with crazy people. I just hope my teachers had the guts to give these people ZEROS! This woman sounds like a spoiled little kid with Daddy expecting her to be handed a grade.

Hoosier

February 13th, 2013
3:06 pm

As a college educator, I wouldn’t give a zero for the participation grade. In my syllabi, “participation” includes attendance and being on time to class, in addition to thoughtful contribution to class discussions. So, this student would not have earned a 0, if she at least met the attendance/promptness guidelines. The nature of her discussion contributions may come in to question, particularly if the professor got it in writing via the “warning letter.” “Professionalism” is something usually defined, in writing, by the department–and students are held to demonstrating appropriate behavior. But couldn’t this have been solved through the university’s grievance system rather than the courts?

Lynn43

February 13th, 2013
3:11 pm

There is not enough information for anyone on this blog to have an opinion. The professor stated that the student’s behavior was the reason, but no where does she offer specifics. I will reserve my opinion until more information is available.

Centrist

February 13th, 2013
3:12 pm

Until we adopt a “loser pays” philosophy of torts like the rest of the world, and there is a real added penalty for frivolous lawsuits, we will continue to allow our legal system to be clogged with junk like this. Lawyers have no problem filing dozens of such suits on a contingency – they only need to have one to pay off big.

Cindy Lutenbacher

February 13th, 2013
3:17 pm

I’ve taught at the college level for over twenty-three years, and I’ve never had a student so disruptive as to earn a zero for class participation.
That said, I think we have too few “facts” in this case.

Fred ™

February 13th, 2013
3:19 pm

I got a bad grade from a bimbette once for not doing something she said was optional. Another time for freshman history the professor gave us a sylabus that included all projectys and test dates and said if we didn’t feel we needed to come to class then don’t, it won’t affect our grade. I aced everything except attendance. I had a 99% average and he gave me a B+. Then when asked by the head of department he lied.

I can very much see that this could have happened like the lady says. I found many professors to be arrogant and petty. I find many of the whole staff and faculty of places of higher education to be arrogant and petty.

Bernie

February 13th, 2013
3:22 pm

Just another dose of Sour Grapes from a member of The Lucky Gene Pool Club. Just because Dad is a Professor at the college and she knows better than the
Instructor, therefore she is entittled to what SHE thinks SHE deserves. Why is it that these individuals always walk around with a sense of entittlement. How many other Americans out here who have receieved an unfair grading in a class or a Job Evaluation. It is time for her to put her Big Girl pants on and get a grip! As the Rolling Stone song goes, “You can’t Always, GET What YOU WANT.”

mystery poster

February 13th, 2013
3:23 pm

I would like to know what the warning letter said.

Milton1960

February 13th, 2013
3:32 pm

@mystery
That’s exactly what I was thinking. Seems like the letter might carry a good deal of weight.

Prof

February 13th, 2013
3:49 pm

@ Fred ™ If your history professor gave you a syllabus that stated in writing that your attendance wouldn’t be counted, but it did–you really should have appealed your grade! In fact, come to think of it–that’s what this student should have done. Why didn’t she?

(Subjective grading by the instructor usually is grounds for a grade appeal, though hard to prove …the real reason why I never counted class participation. The reality is that any grade under A for participation can be challenged.)

Just Sayin

February 13th, 2013
3:51 pm

Soomething seems strange here. How can 1 c plus stop her from graduating. I don’t know of any graduate program that requires a 4.0 to graduate. There is something else going on here. Oh and her father is a professor at the school. She went for FREE. Wait and she took the class in 2009. So what has she done since then? Yeah she is full of it.

Fred ™

February 13th, 2013
4:01 pm

Prof: I think she DID appeal. I read this story earlier in a different place. As for my case, he SAID we didn’t need to come to class, it wasn’t in his printed material. I was young and still not used to dealing with liars so I actually believed him. As to an appeal? Again, I was young and didn’t really care nor know how to go about it or anything else. I’m not complaining about it, it is what it is, I merely used it as a point of verification that stupid crap goes on all the time.

As a professor, you should know that the Faculty close ranks when challenged by an outsider. Just like cops lol.

There has to be much more to this story than I have read. As someone else queried, I’d like to see that first warning letter. If the suit was entirely frivolous, the judge would have already tossed it.

Teacher Reader

February 13th, 2013
4:10 pm

If she wants to get reinstated, there are ways to fight this in the university. It’s done all of the time, where students ask for a grade/class to be removed, to be reinstated, etc. This does not belong in the court and should be taken up at the university. If the university stands behind the professor and grade, than suck it up honey. Life isn’t fair.

Also the dad’s girl is a professor at Leigh. She’s paying nothing or next to nothing for this education that she is getting. Asking for a million dollars is utter BS.

Wilbur

February 13th, 2013
4:12 pm

It is manifestly NOT up to the Judiciary to review whether or not a grade in class is “legal and ethical”. To do so is a HUGE intrusion into a domain of life that the courts should stay far, far away from. How can a judge make such a determination and why should we expect one to be involved in an ethecial decision anyway?Inserting judicial review into the academic process is a train wreck of gargantuan proportions.
Changing this woman’s grades would reward her erratic and rude behavior and would only postpone her learning how to conduct herself in public. She needs the lesson. I would rather doubt that she has meaningful damages that could be proven even if a hearing like this one were appropriate.

Old timer

February 13th, 2013
4:51 pm

If she loses she ought to pay everything for both sides….and all court costs.

ShooShee

February 13th, 2013
4:57 pm

My son got an 82 on his German final at Chamblee Middle School several years back, however, the teacher gave him an “F” due to a lack of participation – he missed 21 days of school due to strep, hives and a broken foot. You’d think she’d be impressed that he could still pass the test… but no. This is the alternative world called DeKalb.

mountain man

February 13th, 2013
5:21 pm

She does not have any case for $1.3 million in damages. The most she might have is a discrimation lawsuit and be given the chance to retake the course. She could have easily retaken the course (preferably with a different professor).

Prof

February 13th, 2013
5:24 pm

@ Fred .™ You’re sure right about faculty closing ranks…the thing to do is to corral several classmates as witnesses–after the class is finished.

Curious thing also is that the father as a professor knows all of the politics and procedures of Lehigh for something like this. And the judge proposed that she be let her back in the program and re-take the course, and this was turned down…by Lehigh or the plaintiff, we don’t know. From what I know of universities and how they feel about legal suits, I would bet it was the plaintiff’s decision. And I also sense that the plaintiff and her professor-father wish to do their best to destroy this instructor professionally. Nasty undertones.

GNGS

February 13th, 2013
5:26 pm

It is unprecedented to give a ZERO for participation to a student who shows up every class and contributes to discussion.

It is obvious that the teacher did not like the student, for whatever the reason, and graded the student accordingly.

The judge is right for not wanting to get involved in an academic matter. The question is what options a student has when she/he is given a capricious grade, potentially due to retaliation for antagonizing teacher?

bootney farnsworth

February 13th, 2013
5:30 pm

I haven’t see grade contacts since HS before the dawn of time, and never, ever heard of anything like it at GPC. a grade is earned, pure and simple.

I am aware of several classes, mostly social sciences, where participation is mandatory, and spelled out as such in the syllabus. usually as a way to boost a grade, but it can work both ways if a student is disruptive.

any validity she might have had went up in smoke with sexual harrassment suit on a woman who allegedly opposes gay marriage.

bootney farnsworth

February 13th, 2013
5:34 pm

being a conservative who went to school at a very left of center school and then worked for one, I can say with dead certainty there are times in life when you get ideological morons in class or as supervisors.

you gotta pick your fights, and be ready for the consequences when you do.

bootney farnsworth

February 13th, 2013
5:35 pm

there is no evidence she contributed to discussion, and much to suggest she disrupted it.

Progressive Humanist

February 13th, 2013
5:54 pm

A zero for participation/professionalism should be reserved for someone who didn’t show up at all, but then again, that person would have been dropped from the roll for lack of attendance.

I usually allocate 10% of the grade to professionalism/participation. This might not be appropriate for all fields because it is rather subjective, but I think it’s definitely appropriate when the student is not only receiving a diploma but also receiving certification for an occupation. If they come into class late or not at all, are consistently unprepared, spend all their time texting or browsing the internet, and speak offensively to other students and the professor, then they’re probably going to do the same in a public school setting and may do worse when they’re behind a closed door with students. We can’t have our graduates doing those sorts of things in the field.

But if participation/professionalism is worth 10% of the grade, and a student does not meet expectations, then I would assign a 5 or 6 out of 10, which is failing in that category. It could potentially drop them a letter grade or even make someone fail, but only if their overall body of work was subpar to begin with.

It’s difficult to envision a scenario where a student would get a zero in that category. If the student attended every class but the behavior was so extreme as to warrant a zero, then it seems as if she should have been removed from the course. What the professor did here sounds excessive, but there’s not enough information to tell with certainty.

One Cool Guy

February 13th, 2013
6:12 pm

Bootney et al: I teach at GPC. I used to have class participation as part of my final grade but discontinued it because of its subjective nature. I have found sometimes that the quiet students are the ones paying the most attention and, conversely, that the most vocal are overcompensatiing for poor skills elsewhere. It’s been so long now that I don’t know how I could assign a certain number of points on participation, unless I had a laundry list of what constituted participation–and I don’t want to cherry-pick that much. This subjectivity seems the very thing that’s at the core of this case.

Fred ™

February 13th, 2013
7:00 pm

Prof: And I also sense that the plaintiff and her professor-father wish to do their best to destroy this instructor professionally. Nasty undertones.

I would tend to agree with you. Maybe she is tenured and you know hard difficult it is to remove tenured faculty. Or maybe she is just someone who has religious beliefs against gay marriage and as such, the girl is militant and trying to destroy her on that issue. Who knows. Either way, we aren’t getting the whole story. LOL I should ask my wife if she knows anyone there who has an inside scoop………. I doubt they would talk though.

I Teach Writing

February 13th, 2013
8:11 pm

Although a situation in which a student showing up to class and talking regularly would merit zero participation credit is rare, it’s not impossible. I have had students who don’t seem to have an effective filter, and whose “contributions” to class were almost always off-topic (and often arriving in the middle of another student’s question or statement). In one case, the student ignored a diplomatically couched after-class request for courtesy to classmates, a much less subtle discussion in my office, and eventually a strongly voiced quelling in front of his peers (after he thoughtlessly overrode a soft-spoken student making a valuable point). When none of that worked, I went on record with a stern email. That sort of worked. I don’t know whether it would have stuck, as the student eventually dropped the course for other reasons. Had he remained and returned to his pattern, he might well have earned a zero despite constantly speaking in class.

Not all participation is helpful.

catlady

February 13th, 2013
8:36 pm

In the past, outside the K12 arena, the courts have been unwilling to step in, as long as the professor’s policy is posted on the syllabus and followed. If those have happened, she has no chance.

Now, if teachers only had this kind of discretion and professional treatment!

Comprehension 101

February 13th, 2013
8:36 pm

If a student submits mediocre work, then the student deserves a mediocre grade. These students want everything spoon-fed to them and their sense of entitlement starts in middle school all through grad school. When teachers and professors are permitted to actually give students what they earn, and not until that time, will systems do a true service to their students and education as a whole.

catlady

February 13th, 2013
8:46 pm

P.S. One of the biggest shocks to me after I came back to the K12 classroom was the total lack of professional treatment by the administrators. At the two universities, I was treated as a colleague and a professional.

Prof

February 13th, 2013
8:46 pm

I did some very quick Googling for “Lehigh Amanda Eckhardt,” read her vita, and think my surmise to Fred ™ may be on the right track: some academic politics are going on. For as many on here have pointed out, there are too many things about the case that don’t add up— among other things, asking damages of $1.3 million in lost wages for a job Megan Thode doesn’t even have yet.

The father is a grand old professor, Director in Real Estate Studies. The other faculty member, AE, is a brand-new Professor in Counseling Psychology, who got her Ph.D. from Lehigh in 2011. In 2009, she was Adjunct Faculty. This means that she is now untenured…and there is nothing like a lawsuit to mess up one’s chances for tenure.

Sandy Springs Parent

February 13th, 2013
8:50 pm

I have instructed my daughter who just started college as a dual enrollment student that she needs to appeal every borderline grade in college and graduate school that she does not get an A in. I told her college is a game. I also told her how does she think I graduated 5th in my class.

I was a TA in grad school, I understand that half the time the TA’s at major Universities have never taken the courses they grade for. Then to top it off I had a professor who wouldn’t share the key to the exams with me.

I had both the TA and Student prospective appeal. You don’t know the student next to you may be sleeping with the professor. In fact, some one high up in HD’s HR department was a professor at a Deep South university teaching Workplace psych or something like that and started screwing his student. How do I know she told me at Preschool, waiting to pick up their kid. He was one of Nardelli’s great hires for the HR fast track because of his PHD.

Prof

February 13th, 2013
9:08 pm

@ Sandy Springs Parent. Students have to have documented grounds for grade appeals.

Beck

February 13th, 2013
9:27 pm

Sandy Springs Parent –

If you want to waste your own time, that is fine. But the amount of time that your daughter will waste appealing every grade she earns that isn’t up to YOUR standards will be detrimental to EVERY student of EVERY professor whose time she wastes with her appeals.

The fact that you would brag about being 5th in your class because you challenged the grades you received speaks volumes to your character (or lack thereof) rather than your intellect and ability.

atlmom

February 13th, 2013
11:35 pm

Sandy Springs parent: perhaps your child will graduate, but all they will learn is that all he needs to do is complain all the time. Not the best lesson to learn.

(yes, I taught undergraduate classes – and I had a parent who complained to the dean of the math department. Who I hear, promptly hung up on mom).

justpassingby

February 14th, 2013
2:34 am

Found this in another article on the web. It seems like the judge wants to resolve this but its not working.

…The university’s lawyers, Sacks and Neil Hamburg, argue that Thode was simply not ready to move on. They say she showed unprofessional behavior that included swearing in class and, on one occasion, having an outburst in which she began crying.

After getting the grade, Thode unsuccessfully filed internal grievances, showed up for meetings with her father, and insisted that Carr give her a written apology and a “plan for compensating me financially,” Lehigh says.

On Wednesday morning, Giordano expressed unhappiness with both sides, saying he suggested a reasonable settlement on the first day of trial: that Thode, 27, of Nazareth be placed back into the program and be allowed to take the class again.

“It’s regrettable that this case hasn’t been resolved,” Giordano said, while also expressing doubts about whether he has the authority to raise Thode’s grade, as Orloski seeks….

Jason

February 14th, 2013
7:28 am

Ridiculous that a student who attends class and participates gets a zero. There are a lot of teachers out there who are dictators. It’s complete nonsense to a student no marks at all. Basically for some minor things that you would expect from young students, she gave the same mark as someone who didnt turn up at all. Ridiculous – hope she succeeds and it’s a well earnt lesson to tyrannical professors.

ChristyS

February 14th, 2013
9:34 am

My husband is a professor. Attendance is worth 5% of the grade in his classes. He announces this fact and posts it in his syllabus that this grade is earned by coming to class. He typically has over 100 students in his class, so in order to know if a student actually attended class, he gives three pop quizzes during the semester. IOW, a student who is in class during the three days when pop quizzes are given earns their quiz grade AND a participation grade of 100%. Can’t tell you how many times students try to appeal their borderline grades with some of the most inventive excuses ever heard about why they missed class.

catlady

February 14th, 2013
11:03 am

Those of you tooting the “participation” horn: There was a guy that was transfered into my doctoral program from another program. We learned why within days. Oh, yes, he particpated, but it was on things like proposing to do a paper on narcolepsy! And arguing about everying. He also carried around a file box with him, and carried it like it might have a gun in it. The department got him transfered out, to his third or fourth progam. Now, he “participated” but do you think it was helpful particpation?

atlmom

February 14th, 2013
11:28 am

catlady: sounds like that guy needed some mental health help, and all he was getting was shuffled from dept to dept. So sad, given resources on a college campus.

Kat

February 14th, 2013
11:51 am

Her being a graduate student, do we know her approximate age? She could have been an early entrant to college or a person in her later years. Was she 21 or 31 or 41? She’s claiming sexual discrimination; how is that a factor?

Shark Punch!

February 14th, 2013
12:49 pm

In my college courses. I take daily attendance, and this is part of the final grade. A student who disrupts the learning environment is treated as being absent for that day, and will most likely be asked to leave the classroom. It says so very clearly on my course syllabus. If the allegations about Ms. Thode’s classroom behaviour are true, she’d likely have earned a zero for attendance in my course as well. This is not so I can have power trip over my authority in the classroom, it’s because….guess what….there are OTHER STUDENTS in the class that are just as deserving of a quality education as the whiny special little snowflakes.

Like others above, I used to have “class participation” as part of the grade, but the growth of the grade entitlement mentality–see Sandy Springs Parent for a shining example of this–made this more trouble than it’s worth. Every aspect of my grading is very objective, and yet I still get one or two students a year who think they deserve special treatment.

Prof

February 14th, 2013
3:11 pm

@ Kat. Megan Thode’s age is given above as 27. In 2009 when she took the course, she would have been 24.

More on her classroom behavior, from lehighvalleylive.com. Hamburg is the teacher’s lawyer. Thode was training to be a psychological counselor.

“Megan Thode had outbursts in class in which she asked for aspirin for a headache and recalled how someone once called another professor a pompous ass. Once she burst into tears. Thode was not participating in the therapy course appropriately, Eckhardt said, and Eckhardt even provided her a letter advising her on steps she needed to take.

Instead of taking positive steps and addressing the matters she brought up, Thode became emotionally unstable when confronted, Eckhardt said. Thode said she needed to speak with her father and possibly seek legal counsel.

“I need to get a lawyer,” Eckhardt said, quoting Megan Thode.

Eckhardt also dismissed the claims of discrimination over Thode’s opinions on gay marriage. While she believes marriage should be between a man and a woman, Eckhardt testified she would not allow her personal stance to cloud her professional judgement. Eckhardt also said her sister is gay and would be her matron of honor at her wedding if asked.

Hamburg also cast Stephen Thode in negative light, suggesting he became involved as a way to exact revenge on the university for not promoting him to a full professor. He also noted Thode’s two children received free college education as part of the compensation provided to Lehigh University staff and faculty members.”