A federal judge issued an order today allowing the Justice Department to intervene in a disability discrimination lawsuit against the Law School Admission Council (LSAC). The department’s intervention expands the case from a statewide class action limited to California residents to a nationwide pattern or practice lawsuit.
The lawsuit, The Department of Fair Employment and Housing v. LSAC Inc. et al., charges LSAC with widespread and systemic deficiencies in the way it processes requests by people with disabilities for testing accommodations for the Law School Admission Test (LSAT). As a result, the lawsuit alleges, LSAC fails to provide testing accommodations where needed to best ensure that those test takers can demonstrate their aptitude and achievement level rather than their disability.
The department’s complaint identifies additional victims of LSAC’s discriminatory policies and details LSAC’s routine denial of testing accommodation requests, even in cases where applicants have submitted thorough supporting documentation from qualified professionals and demonstrated a history of testing accommodations since elementary school.
The department further alleges that LSAC discriminates against prospective law students with disabilities by unnecessarily “flagging” test scores obtained with certain testing accommodations in a way that identifies the test taker as a person with a disability, disclosing otherwise confidential disability-related information to law schools during the admissions process. LSAC’s practice of singling out persons with disabilities by flagging their scores –– is discrimination prohibited by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The department’s proposed complaint seeks declaratory and injunctive relief, compensatory damages and a civil penalty against LSAC.
“LSAC’s discriminatory policies in the administration of the LSAT adversely impact people with disabilities nationwide. This is a systemic problem with serious consequences that echo throughout such individuals’ academic and employment careers, and it needs to be addressed as such,” said Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division. “The Justice Department’s full participation in this case is an important step towards ending a long cycle of disability discrimination in standardized testing.”
One of the victims identified in the complaint, for example, was diagnosed with dyslexia at age seven. He was evaluated on four different occasions by qualified professionals, first in 1990 and most recently in 2011, and has received extended time on tests since the results of his first evaluation were reported. Consistent with his long history of testing accommodations, and the recommendations of the qualified professionals who evaluated him, he requested testing accommodations for the June and October 2011 administration of the LSAT, including extended time. In support of his request, he submitted a full neuropsychological evaluation and proof that he received extended time on multiple AP exams, multiple administrations of the SAT, as well as throughout elementary school, high school and college. Despite acknowledging his diagnosis, LSAC denied his request for extended time in full without any explanation. When the applicant requested an explanation of the denial, LSAC disputed the accuracy of his well-documented and consistent diagnosis, as well as his long history of testing accommodations. The applicant requested reconsideration and submitted additional supporting documentation demonstrating his long history of disability and need for the requested extended time, as well as a further letter from the board certified neuropsychologist who evaluated him in 2011 explaining why LSAC’s interpretation of his evaluation was incorrect. Despite this clear and comprehensive documentation of his disability and need for extended time, LSAC again refused to provide the needed accommodation without any further explanation. As a result, the applicant was denied access to the LSAT and prevented from applying to law school.
“The U.S. Attorney’s Office remains committed to ensuring equal access to educational opportunities for everyone,” said U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag, U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of California. “We are pleased that the Court granted the government’s motion to intervene.”
Title III of the ADA prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability by public accommodations and by entities that offer examinations or courses related to applications, licensing, certification, or credentialing for secondary or postsecondary education, professional, or trade purposes. The ADA mandates that testing entities administer examinations in an accessible manner. This requires testing entities to administer examinations, such as the LSAT, so as to best ensure that, when the examination is administered to a person with a disability, the examination results accurately reflect his or her aptitude or achievement level, or whatever other factor the examination purports to measure, rather than the individual’s disability. In addition, Title V of the ADA prohibits any entity from coercing, intimidating, threatening, or interfering with an individual’s exercise or enjoyment of a right granted by the ADA.