June 18, 2014 – A recent settlement means organizations administering the Law School Admissions Test (LSAT) can no longer deny testing accommodations to individuals with qualifying disabilities and must end a policy of “flagging” score reports to law schools if a test taker received an accommodation, such as more time to take the test.
The Law School Admissions Council (LSAC), a nonprofit corporation that administers the LSAT on behalf of 219 law schools, must also pay $7.73 million in civil penalties and damages to compensate more than 6,000 individuals who applied for accommodations.
In 2012, the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing brought suit on behalf of 17 individuals in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California.
The U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division intervened in the lawsuit to ensure that any settlement or outcome against LSAC applied nationwide. On May 20, both sides filed a joint consent decree for approval by the federal district court.
The complaint alleged LSAC routinely denied testing accommodation requests, even in cases where the individual had supporting documentation. Outright denials and the practice of “flagging” the score reports of disabled individuals who received extra time to complete the test violated the Americans with Disabilities Act, the lawsuit had alleged.
The lawsuit also alleged that LSAC required applicants to undergo psychoeducational and neuropsychological testing if requesting extra time or other accommodations.
In 2011, Richard Brown, chief judge of the Wisconsin Court of Appeals, had urged the State Bar of Wisconsin to co-sponsor a resolution supporting the changes that were ultimately outlined in the settlement agreement arising from the litigation against LSAC.
Brown said the settlement is significant, particularly with respect to LSAC’s practice of flagging the test results of individuals who received an accommodation. Such flagging had the potential to unjustly influence a law school’s admissions decisions, he said.
org jforward wisbar Joe Forward, Saint Louis Univ. School of Law 2010, is a legal writer for the State Bar of Wisconsin, Madison. He can be reached by org jforward wisbar email or by phone at (608) 250-6161.
“The playing field was unequal,” Judge Brown said. “Now, with the consent order, that will end. If a person thinking of a legal career is wondering whether our profession still stands for justice, this will help answer the question – ‘yes.’”
Under the consent decree, individuals who applied for testing accommodations between Jan. 1, 2009, and May 20, 2014, may be eligible to receive a monetary award from a victims’ compensation fund that will be established with part of the $7.73 million. LSAC did not admit wrongdoing in the settlement, but agreed to the terms of the agreement.
LSAC must also implement best practices to review and evaluate accommodation requests and streamline the process by automatically granting accommodations for those who received accommodations for other post-secondary standardized exams.
A DOJ lawyer said the landmark agreement, expected to be entered by a federal court in San Francisco, “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.”
State Bar of Wisconsin Supported Changes
Back in 2011, the State Bar of Wisconsin’s Board of Governors voted to co-sponsor a resolution promoting equality for disabled individuals who apply for and take the LSAT.
Chief Judge Brown appeared at the board’s meeting to discuss the issue and urged support for the resolution, developed by the ABA Commission on Disability Rights.
At the time, Judge Brown said there was “no correlation that justifies a demerit for having an accommodation” and said the resolution’s recommendations simply put disabled individuals on equal footing with those who don’t have disabilities.
John Skilton, the Wisconsin State Delegate to the ABA House of Delegates, also appeared to voice support for the resolution, which was eventually presented to and unanimously supported by the ABA House of Delegates in February 2012.
The resolution urged LSAC to provide appropriate accommodations for test takers with qualifying disabilities and recommended procedures to ensure that the application process, test scoring, and test reporting eliminated the practice of “flagging.”
The resolution also urged all entities that administer the LSAT to make accessible procedures, policies, and guidelines for granting accommodation requests, and provide a fair process for timely reconsideration if an accommodation is denied.
In addition to the State Bar of Wisconsin, numerous bar associations supported the resolution, including the state bars of Utah, Oregon, Washington, and Delaware.
The consent decree recognizes all the concerns raised by the co-sponsored ABA resolution, evidence that bar associations make a difference in righting wrongs.
“This was a grassroots movement,” Judge Brown said. “For it to be so successful, lawyers outside the disability advocacy community had to get involved. And they did. The end result was unanimous support in the ABA House of Delegates, which led to state action by legislatures and culminated in the consent decree.
“Our bar played an integral part,” Judge Brown said. “This shows that bar associations can implement change by getting involved.”