The Pennsylvania woman who sued her graduate school professors over a C plus lost in court last week. Northampton County Judge Emil Giordano ruled that Megan Thode failed to prove that her grade in a Lehigh University fieldwork course was the result of any sort of discrimination. (See our earlier blog discussion of the lawsuit.)
In her quest for $1.3 million in damages, Thode argued that the low grade prevented her from advancing in her licensed professional counselor program and forced her to opt for a less prestigious degree that meant a lower income.
The Morning Call, the area newspaper covering this case, has done a great job, including this followup about the prevalence of using the courts to resolve grading disputes.
Attorneys for Lehigh noted on the first day of the trial that if Northampton County Judge Emil Giordano changed Thode’s grade, his decision would be unprecedented.
They were right, said Philadelphia education attorney J. Freedly Hunsicker, who said he is unaware of any case in which a student has successfully challenged a grade on the basis of educational malpractice alone. “A court is not equipped to determine the quality of a paper or a grade,” Hunsicker said.
The courts’ deference to teachers and professors exists at every rung of the educational ladder. But it tends to be more pronounced in cases that involve institutions of higher learning and even more so when a student is in a professional degree program such as medical or law school, Hunsicker said.
Courts are willing to give universities the benefit of the doubt, rather than intervening and risking an error that could allow a person who truly is not prepared to practice law, medicine or other life-and-death professions into those fields, Hunsicker said.
And last year, a California high school student sued his school district in federal court, alleging his chemistry teacher gave him a C+ to keep him out of the best colleges. The district agreed to raise his grade to a B, and his lawyer withdrew the lawsuit to spare the boy the harsh spotlight a trial would have attracted.
Students disappointed with their grades are more likely to get a judge’s attention when they can make a credible claim that the bad marks are the result of discrimination on the basis of gender, race, religion or some other protected class, education lawyers say.
“A courtroom isn’t the right place to contest a grade, but if a teacher discriminates and thinks they can do whatever they want, that should be challenged,” said Daniel Horowitz, the Lafayette, Calif., lawyer who represented the student with a C+ in chemistry.
–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog