Disabled Test-Takers To Get $7.7 Million

Screen shot 2014-05-21 at 1.44.58 AMDo you have Attention Deficit Disorder? Did you feel a pit in your stomach when you realized every law school admissions committee would know you asked for testing accommodations on the LSAT?

Consider this a victory: On Tuesday (May 20), the Law School Admission Council (LSAC) agreed to fork over $7.73 million to settle allegations that it violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) by discriminating against LSAT test-takers with disabilities.

The money will compensate more than 6,000 test-takers who applied for accommodations over the last five years. It will also go to a nationwide victims’ compensation fund.

On top of that, LSAC will stop flagging the score reports of students who received extra time on the test due to disabilities (i.e. disclosing information that would’ve otherwise remained private). Acting Assistant Attorney General Jocelyn Samuels called the practice “stigmatizing.” It will also automatically grant most accommodations test-takers can demonstrate they’ve received in previous higher education-related standardized exams, such as the SAT or the GED.

The lawsuit originally came from The California Department of Fair Employment and Housing. In July 2012, the organization sued LSAC on behalf of 17 Californians who were allegedly denied testing accommodations between 2009 and 2012; those 17 individuals cited conditions ranging from ADD to learning disorders to quadriplegia.

According to the complaint, LSAC has consistently denied accommodations to test-takers with permanent physical disabilities, as well as test-takers who were able to legitimately demonstrate that they’d received accommodations for their disabilities since childhood. One individual in the case had been diagnosed with dyslexia at seven years old and had been evaluated by professionals four different times between 1990 and 2011. The individual had submitted a full neuropsychological evaluation and proof of accommodations on the SAT and multiple AP exams; nonetheless, LSAC rejected the request twice, even after the individual submitted additional documentation.

The complaints haven’t been limited to California. For example, last November, University of Georgia graduate Adelyn M. Bargeron sued LSAC, claiming that the council denied her request in spite of the fact that she submitted various documents confirming her history of ADHD.

The U.S. Department of Justice officially put the issue on the national stage in October 2012. It intervened to expand the case, changing it from “a statewide class action limited to California residents to a nationwide pattern or practice lawsuit,” according to the Department of Justice. U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of California Melinda Haag was pleased with the intervention. “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,” she said. “We are fully committed to ensuring equal access to all opportunities society has to offer, including education.”

This time around, LSAC has played nice. “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,” Samuels said.

But the council hasn’t admitted to the allegations. In a statement, it underlined the fact that the Department of Justice has been aware of the practice of flagging since at least 1986. In fact, the department actually helped craft the language that let test-takers know about the practice. “LSAC believes it would have been more appropriate, and more productive for all concerned, for DOJ to change its views through a traditional notice-and-comment rulemaking that involved all parties who are affected by DOJ’s testing accommodation regulations,” the statement said. Ouch.

Regardless, law school applicants can breathe easy with the knowledge that getting extra time will be a bit easier—and that law schools won’t be able to judge them for it.