THOMASVILLE -- Three former Thomas University students are suing the college for libel, slander and invasion of privacy after being accused of plagiarism and denied a degree.

Darla Glass, Chansidy Daniels and Shan Daniels are plaintiffs in a lawsuit that alleges the university gave them failing grades unfairly, which kept them from graduating with a masters degree. The former students also are suing on grounds of negligence, intentional infliction of emotional distress and constructive wrongful termination.

Named as defendants in the suit are Thomas University Inc., university president Dr. John M. Hutchinson and professors William Hamby and Jenny Swearingen.

The plaintiffs allege in the lawsuit that the defendants and Thomas University:

Have acted in bad faith, have been stubbornly litigious and have put plaintiffs to unnecessary trouble and expense by refusing to admit liability.

Have shown willful misconduct, malice, fraud, wantonness, oppression, a want of care, which would raise the presumption of conscious indifference to consequences and the rights of others.

Have injured the reputation of the plaintiffs ... exposing (them) to public hatred, contempt or ridicule.

Two of the students, Glass and Chansidy Daniels, were employed by the college and were suspended without pay following the plagiarism ruling. Glass was director of student affairs and Daniels was director of enrollment management. Shan Daniels, husband of Chansidy Daniels, was enrolled in the same class with the other plaintiffs.

Friday afternoon, Hutchinson said he was not aware of the lawsuit against the school, which was filed at the Thomas County Courthouse Thursday. He had no comment.

Robert D. Jewell, counsel for plaintiffs, could not be reached for comment at his law office in Moultrie.

All three plaintiffs were enrolled in MBA Business Strategy 690A, a course taught by Swearingen and Hamby. The class required students to prepare and submit a total of 13 article summaries and one literature review consisting of 25 article summaries.

Students were given sample copies of the work that was expected of them. The suit alleges that "at no time during the course of study" were students "given guideline or direction as to which literary style their article summaries or final literature review would be in."

The plaintiffs also claim students never were told to cite or reference academic material in any certain terms, and received full credit on each article summary until the final submission.

According to the lawsuit, Hamby and Swearingen "never contacted nor made corrections to any previous article summaries handed in during the course," and the instructors "never confronted Plaintiffs ... to question them or correct them in the style or manner in which they wrote all previous article summaries handed in."

The summaries submitted by the plaintiffs were even used as examples by other students in the class and the defendants, according to the lawsuit. The final literature review was turned in on or about April 28, and on May 12, Hamby indicated to students that he had not graded them yet.

The plaintiffs allege that neither Hamby nor Swearingen ever personally graded their final course work, and instead submitted the work to an Internet Web site called Turn It In.com, which checks for plagiarism.

By submitting their work to the website "without authority or permission," the plaintiffs claim the professors invaded their privacy. Each of the plaintiffs received a failing grade for the class because it was determined -- first by the instructors, then by Hutchinson during an appeal -- that the students had plagiarized their work.

The plaintiffs "were not allowed to graduate with their Masters of Business Administration from Thomas University, based on the failing grade they received in MBA 690 Business Strategy and Policy," according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit further claims the defendants committed slander "when they stated and communicated to others that said plaintiffs plagiarized." The plaintiffs claim they "were defamed by said disparaging words," and that "they have suffered general and special damages."

Furthermore, the suit alleges "plaintiffs have sustained loss of earnings, mental suffering in the form of humiliation, embarrassment, aggravation, annoyance, frustration, vexation, fear, worry, anxiety and loss of peace of mind."

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