Ex-Students Sues Law School Over Grade

8227882239_2fdbcdaa24_zWhat’s more embarrassing than getting suspended from law school? Suing your school for suspending you, probably—not that former Massachusetts School of Law student Martin Odemena seems to care. On Friday, Odemena officially sued the institution and one of its professors over what essentially amounts to quiz results. America’s justice system at its finest, folks.

Here’s how it all went down, according to the National Law Journal: During the 2010-2011 academic year, Odemena was a night student enrolled in Professor Joseph Devlin’s contracts class. The syllabus said that the class included optional quiz sessions on Friday afternoons. But Odemena had apparently failed to listen when, during the first day of class, Devlin told students that he was actually going to factor quiz results into students’ final grades; he skipped some of those quiz sessions and wound up with a D in the class.

Odemena contested his grade through Peter Malaguti, a Massachusetts Law professor who also serves as the school’s general counsel. Unfortunately for Odemena, an investigation unearthed a classmate’s notes that basically killed his argument: The notes clearly showed that Devlin had told students about the syllabus change on the first day. That D prompted Massachusetts Law to suspend Odemena and inform him via letter that he was no longer in good standing with the school. That letter has made it impossible for him to transfer to a different law school, according to Odemena’s complaint.

It would be sort of possible to have sympathy for Odemena if he were an 18-year-old college freshman. No one likes listening to professors go over the little details of their syllabi; making quizzes mandatory instead of optional on the first day of class is sort of a dick move; and it’s easy to talk yourself into missing class on Fridays. But actual adults—adults who decide to pay thousands of dollars for the dubious privilege of attending law school—should take more responsibility for themselves. Did that syllabus change really come up just once? You’d imagine Odemena would’ve at least figured things out while talking about the class with other students.

Even if Odemena did make a totally honest mistake, his reaction doesn’t exactly tell the world, “Hey, I’m the kind of guy who owns up to my actions. Please hire me.” Having failed to get Massachusetts Law to change his grade, he’s suing the school for violating Massachusetts’ consumer protection laws and seeking more than $100,000 in damages for “not currently having a legal career, plus attorney fees and a declaration that the quiz results do not count toward his grade,” the National Law Journal writes. Reread that for a second. Doesn’t that sound silly? Malaguti says the school will file a motion to dismiss the lawsuit.

Odemena isn’t the first person to sue his law school over a grade. In 2012, Karla Ford and Jonathan Chan, former students at Texas Southern University’s Thurgood Marshall School of Law, sued the school under surprisingly similar circumstances. TSU dismissed both students after they got Ds in Contracts II (one can only assume that contracts is a heinous subject). Like Odemena, they sued both the school and the professor who taught the class, claiming she simply wanted to “curve them out of the class,” according to the Houston Chronicle. The lawsuit was dismissed by a federal judge later that year. “Curved grading is a commonly accepted academic norm and does not demonstrate a lack of professional judgment,” the judge wrote in her opinion.

Odemena’s lawsuit is unlikely to end well for him. His complaint says that because of that one bad grade, “his legal career is for all practical purposes over”; while that might be true, now that he’s publicly suing his former school, avenues to many other careers will probably shut down, too. The lesson here is that when something bad happens, moving on is almost always the right choice. Harping on it only digs you into a deeper hole. Who knows? If Odemena had taken some time to explore other options, he might’ve found that law wasn’t for him after all.


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