Plaintiffs Seek Court Approval of Settlement to Eliminate Bias against People with Disabilities in Law School Admissions

Plaintiffs Seek Court Approval of Settlement to Eliminate Bias against People with Disabilities in Law School Admissions
May 20, 2014

LAS-ELC today announced that it is seeking approval of a multimillion-dollar settlement that requires the Law School Admission Council (LSAC) to offer the Law School Admission Test (LSAT) – the high stakes entrance examination for law school – in a place and manner accessible to persons with disabilities, thereby ensuring that people with disabilities will not be discriminated against.   

The lawsuit arose after California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) received complaints of discrimination from individuals who had requested testing accommodations on the LSAT. The US Department of Justice joined the case, expanding it to encompass nationwide claims, and LAS-ELC intervened on behalf of three disabled plaintiffs who alleged that they were denied accommodations when taking the LSAT in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

The settlement seeks to put an end to the practice whereby individuals who were able to obtain testing accommodations had their scores “flagged” by LSAC as having been taken under “non-standard” conditions. Specifically, LSAC would send a letter informing law schools that the applicant was an individual with a disability; that the applicant’s LSAT scores “did not have the same meaning” as other applicant’s test scores; and that the applicant’s test scores had to be viewed “with great sensitivity and flexibility.”

The proposed settlement, filed today and pending approval by United States District Judge Edward M. Chen, includes a provision for reasonable accommodations for test takers with disabilities, a permanent end to flagging score reports, the appointment of an ADA monitor, and payments to individuals nationwide who applied for testing accommodations from January 1, 2009 through May 20, 2014.

“By fully opening the legal profession to qualified individuals with disabilities, LSAC has taken an important step which will benefit both future lawyers and the legal profession as a whole”, said Jinny Kim, LAS-ELC Senior Staff Attorney and Director of LAS-ELC’s Disability Rights Program. “This is truly a civil rights victory.”

Plaintiff-Intervenor Elizabeth Hennessey-Severson said, "I am very pleased with the outcome of this case. It allows people with disabilities, like myself, equal access to the Law School Admissions Test and to the legal profession. I am so glad to know that now I will not be kept from my lifelong dream of practicing law."

“DEFH took down a longstanding barrier to entering the legal profession for people with disabilities,” said Phyllis W. Cheng, Director of the Department of Fair Employment and Housing. “California once more leads the way in opening doors for all who strive to become future attorneys regardless of disability.”