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2 Former TSU Law Students Sue Over ‘Arbitrary and Capricious’ D Grade in First-Year Contracts Class

Posted Feb 8, 2012 2:50 PM CDT
By Martha Neil

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Updated: Jonathan Chan and Karla Ford expected to be second-year law students at Texas Southern University this year.

Instead, the two are making headlines after filing an unusual federal lawsuit in the Southern District of Texas last week. It contends the D grades they got from an adjunct professor teaching a first-year contracts class were "arbitrary and capricious," intended to "curve them out" of the class rather than objectively assess their performance, reports the Houston Chronicle.

Naming as defendants the school and the then-adjunct, Shelley Smith, the suit asserts claims for alleged breach of contract, defamation, and intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress. It also contends TSU was negligent in its hiring, training and supervision of the adjunct.

The National Law Journal reports that Dean Dannye Holley declined to discuss the case, but said it is the law school's policy to dismiss students who don't maintain a minimum grade-point average.

"These are first-year students who flunked out," Holley told the legal publication. "We have a system in place that requires you make a 2.0 grade-point average, which is probably the norm across the country. You don't want to have a student pay second- and third-year tuition when they are performing at that level and likely will not do well on the bar exam or in practice."

Holley told the Chronicle that the school is confident that its grading system is fair and would never seek to force students out without good reason.

The adjunct, who is a partner in a Chicago law firm, declined to comment when contacted by the NLJ.

Chan, 26, and Ford, 27, say they were blindsided by bad grades that the school and their teacher refused to explain. That made it impossible for them to mount a successful challenge to their Contracts II grade in an internal review, they contend.

Both say they were stunned and shamed by the negative assessment of their performance.

"When you believe that you are doing fairly well and you get a grade you feel you don't deserve, it's devastating," Ford told the Chronicle. She earned both a bachelor's degree and a and master's degree in the administration of justice from TSU.

The two, who are represented by attorney Jason Bach, sued for the jurisdictional amount of damages. They are seeking reinstatement to TSU's Thurgood Marshall School of Law, as well as compensatory and punitive damages.

Updated Feb. 9 to add the name of the adjunct professor, Shelley Smith.

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