The Law School Admissions Council, which administers the Law School Admissions Tests, has agreed to pay $7.73 million and undertake “systemic reforms” to settle a nationwide disability discrimination suit, the U.S. Justice Department announced Tuesday.
The DOJ filed a motion in federal court in California to enter the consent decree, which stemmed from allegations that the council engaged in “widespread and systemic discrimination” of disabled test takers in violation of the Americans With Disabilities Act.
The Pennsylvania-based admissions council will pay $7.73 million to compensate more than 6,000 people nationwide who applied for testing accommodations in order to take the LSAT—a required exam for anyone seeking admission to an accredited law school—over the past five years.
The settlement would also end the practice of “flagging,” or annotating LSAT score reports for those test takers who were given extended time to take the exam as an accommodation for their disabilities, the DOJ said. The practice identified to law schools that the test taker was disabled, according to the DOJ.
The settlement also will streamline the handling and evaluation of requests for testing accommodations by automatically granting most requests where a candidate can show that he or she has previously received some kind of disability accommodation in taking a standardized exam.
Individuals who applied for testing accommodations from the admissions council between Jan. 1, 2009, and the entry of the consent decree may be eligible for a monetary award from a nationwide victims’ compensation fund. The suit, Department of Fair Employment and Housing v. LSAC Inc., originally was filed on behalf of individuals with disabilities who took the LSAT in the Northern District of California. According to the DOJ, the council routinely denied testing accommodation requests, even in cases where applicants had a permanent physical disability or submitted thorough supporting documentation from qualified professionals or demonstrated a history of having received testing accommodations. The DOJ’s intervention expanded the case to seek relief for individuals with disabilities across the nation who had taken or intended to take the LSAT.
“This landmark agreement compels systemic reforms to LSAC’s treatment of test takers with disabilities and brings an end to LSAC’s stigmatizing practice of flagging the score reports of individuals with disabilities who require certain testing accommodations,” Acting Assistant Attorney General Jocelyn Samuels for the Civil Rights Division, said in a written statement. “If entered by the court, this decree will impact tens of thousands of Americans with disabilities, opening doors to higher education that have been unjustly closed to them for far too long. We congratulate LSAC for signing this agreement, which will compensate victims of past discrimination and provide a model for the provision of testing accommodations to test takers with disabilities on standardized examinations.”
“The participation of the U.S. Attorney’s Office in this important litigation sends a strong message that no discrimination of any kind will be tolerated in this district,” said U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag for the Northern District of California. “We are fully committed to ensuring equal access to all opportunities society has to offer, including education.”
The plaintiff is California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing. The Law School Admission Council was represented by attorneys in Los Angeles and Washington with Fulbright & Jaworski. Lawyers representing the council could not immediately be reached for comment.
Among the disabilities cited by the plaintiffs were attention deficit disorder; reading and math disorders that “substantially impacted” a test taker’s ability to process written materials; learning disorders involving reading and written expression; and quadriplegia. Plaintiffs with disabilities had asked for accommodations that included not only extra time to take the test, but also requests to use a computer, a computer dictation program, a scribe, and short breaks during the test.
Here is a report by our sister publication National Law Journal, including comments from the LSAC. $8.7M Settlement Ends ‘Flagging’ of Disabled LSAT Takers