A community college may be on the hook for millions in damages after a jury found it liable in a transcript-forging scandal that cost a former student-athlete a shot at a scholarship.
Keith Thomas, a former basketball player at Westchester (N.Y.) Community College, was a top junior college prospect in 2014, and had been offered a scholarship to play at St. John’s University. According to The Journal News, Thomas was about to begin his first season with St. John’s when the fraudulent transcript was discovered. Thomas had his scholarship revoked and was expelled from school.
Westchester basketball coach Tyrone Mushatt was found to have doctored the transcripts of six players, including Thomas, and was sentenced to a period of probation after pleading guilty.
Thomas took his case to court, alleging that the fraud harmed his reputation and professional prospects. Thomas claimed that the school was negligent in its supervision of Mushatt, particularly since it had been tipped off via an anonymous email about his behavior a year before the scandal broke.
“(Keith) was an abused student and he didn’t know it,” Julius Coh, Thomas' laywer, argued at trial.
The defense argued that Thomas shouldn’t be rewarded for losing something he would never have had access to if his academic career was accurately recorded. Defense lawyers argued that Thomas let himself down by failing in his academic responsibilities.
“People have to take responsibility for their own actions,” John Flannery, a lawyer for the Faculty Student Association, argued. “Plaintiff would have you believe...he bears no responsibility for what happened.”
In finding for Thomas, the case heads to a new damages phase, where Westchester County will be held responsible for 80 percent of what the jury deems appropriate, and the Faculty Student Association — the nonprofit group that staffs the community college’s athletic department — will be responsible for the remaining 20 percent.
Documents filed in the case suggest that damages could be as high as $20 million, but Cohn has not said exactly how much he will seek from the jury.