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PA Student Sues Lehigh University for $1.3M Over C+ Grade

Lehigh grad student attending tuition-free alleges her stance on gay marriage made her a target of teachers who lowered her grade and stopped her from getting dream job.

BETHLEHEM, PA—A local woman who attended graduate classes tuition-free at Lehigh University is suing for $1.3 million more from the college because, she claims, a poor grade in one class diminished her lifetime earning potential.

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

Thode is claiming sexual discrimination in the case. Lehigh University counters that Thode behaved unprofessionally—including swearing in class—and hadn’t earned the right to move on in the program.

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.

In a statement made before the lunch recess today, Giordano said he had suggested a settlement in which Thode would be allowed back into the program to take the class again, the newspaper reported. "I remain unconvinced that the judiciary should be injecting itself in the academic process,” the judge reportedly said.

Orloski charges 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.

Editor's note: This article originally was published by Bethlehem Patch in Pennsylvania.

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