A deaf Florida Atlantic University student who wants to go to law school sued Kaplan Educational Centers on Monday for refusing to provide an interpreter for the LSAT preparation course.
Nicholas Williams, 21, filed suit in Fort Lauderdale federal court alleging violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act. The suit assigned to U.S. District Judge Robin Rosenbaum was filed by Miami attorney Matthew Dietz along with lawyers from the National Association of the Deaf Law and Advocacy Center.
The complaint alleged Kaplan advised Williams he could take the course online, but the company would not provide an interpreter for him to take it in a classroom. Williams informed Kaplan he learns better by taking courses in person and requested an American Sign Language interpreter and a note-taker.
On its website, Kaplan Inc. offers both online and classroom instruction for LSAT preparation courses. The company calls itself the world leader in standardized test preparation, preparing hundreds of thousands of students annually for SAT, ACT, PSAT, GMAT, LSAT, MCAT and other testing.
In a letter to Williams about his request, a plan employee said, "I do understand you have a preference for an on-site class. However, Kaplan does not provide sign language interpreters unless there is a demonstrated need that captioning for particular students does not provide effective access to our content."
The employee noted Williams was free to write company CEO Jon Polstein and included his address. He also offered Williams a refund.
"The ADA requires that any private entity that offers certain examinations or courses must make such modifications to that course as are necessary to ensure that the place and manner in which the course is given are accessible to individuals with disabilities," said Dietz, who serves on The Florida Bar's standing committee on inclusion and diversity. "Test preparation courses must be accessible to ensure that the first step to the legal profession is open to persons with disabilities."
A company spokeswoman said Kaplan had no comment.
Williams alleges Kaplan should have known about its legal responsibilities toward deaf students under the ADA since a subsidiary, Concord Law School, was subject to a finding of discrimination against a deaf student in 2012. The student sued Concord and Kaplan in California, alleging the school refused her request for closed-captioning on prerecorded lectures. She received an arbitration award of $140,000 in damages and $779,781 in attorney fees and costs.
"Kaplan has actual knowledge of the fact that the failure to provide auxiliary aids and services to a person who is deaf or hard of hearing is a violation of the person's rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act," the complaint said.
Williams is seeking an injunction requiring Kaplan to place him in a "live" class with a qualified sign language interpreter and note-taker and to offer the same accommodations to others upon request.
Dietz and his legal team waited to file the lawsuit until a verdict was reached in an Omaha case alleging Creighton University discriminated against a deaf medical student. On Sept. 4, jurors returned a verdict in favor of the student but did not award damages, finding the discrimination was unintentional.
According to the National Association of the Deaf, fewer than 350 lawyers identify themselves as deaf or hard of hearing.
In 2012, the American Bar Association adopted a resolution urging those who score law school admission tests to establish procedures to ensure the application process, test scoring and reporting of test scores is consistent for all applicants whether they have disabilities or not.