DOJ intervenes in LSAC class-action lawsuit

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After years of settling disability discrimination lawsuits by prospective law students, the Law School Admission Council is now under pressure from the Department of Justice to overhaul its practices.

Law School

LSAT Discriminatory Practices?

On October 18, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California granted an order allowing the Justice Department to intervene in a lawsuit against LSAC by the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing Employment and 22 prospective students. With the order, the lawsuit is expanded to a class action on behalf of all prospective law students with disabilities nationwide.

LSAC administrates the LSAT, the standard test required for admission into all American Bar Association-approved law schools.

The lawsuit takes aim at LSAC’s practice of “flagging” prospective law students whom received accommodations when taking the LSAT.

Specifically, when sending information to law schools regarding students’ testing scores, the LSAC includes a cautionary statement: that the results “should be interpreted with great sensitivity and flexibility.” LSAC also does not include a percentile rank for these students scores, furthering distinguishing these students from their peers solely on the basis of their disabilities.

For the DOJ, these practices violate the Americans with Disabilities Act by unfairly stigmatizing students with disabilities and increasing the likelihood that their scores will be viewed as illegitimate.

“As a result, LSAC has denied prospective law students with disabilities a full and equal opportunity to demonstrate their knowledge and aptitude and to fairly compete with educational and employment opportunities for which the LSAT is a prerequisite,” the DOJ stated in its complaint.

With the exception of the Medical College Admission Test, the SAT and all other major standardized tests ended this flagging practice a decade ago, according to an article in the National Law Journal. On September 26, Governor Jerry Brown signed a bill, set to go into effect January 1, outlawing these flagging practices in the state of California.

The lawsuit alleged accuses LSAC of consistently failing to provide proper testing accommodations, such as screen readers and loosened time and location restrictions. Students denied requests for accommodations are frequently given cursory responses, providing little guidance for them to modify or appeal their requests.

Additionally, LSAC requires students requesting accommodations to provide “excessive documentation,” even when they have a documented history of similar testing accommodations.

“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 DOJ’s Civil Rights Division, in a news release.

In February 2012, the ABA’s House of Delegates unanimously passed a resolution urging LSAC to modify its procedures for accommodating students with disabilities.

The original lawsuit survived a motion to dismiss by LSAC in September, according to the National Law Journal article.