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June 01, 2014

Settlement reached that will change LSAT accommodation system

The Department of Justice (DOJ) announced May 20 that it has reached a settlement with the Law School Admission Council (LSAC) that requires systemic reforms to LSAC’s treatment of individuals with disabilities who request accommodations for taking the Law School Admission Test (LSAT) and will compensate victims of past discrimination.

Under a proposed consent agreement in a case originally brought in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California on behalf of test takers in California, LSAC will pay $7.73 million in penalties and damages to over 6,000 individuals who applied for testing accommodations over the past five years. An additional $1 million will cover attorneys’ fees and administrative costs. The agreement also will end LSAC’s practice of “flagging” the scores of individuals with disabilities who required testing accommodations.

 “A legal system cannot truly deliver justice if intentional or unintentional barriers prohibit the full participation of lawyers, judicial personnel and members of the public with disabilities,” ABA President James R. Silkenat said in a statement issued immediately following the announcement. “The ABA has therefore long advocated for laws and policies to provide a range of accommodations in our legal institutions,” he said.

Silkenat emphasized the proposed consent decree, if agreed to by the court, will “help ensure that our legal system is open to all by requiring several valuable reforms of the accommodations policies involving the LSAT.

The ABA adopted policy in February 2012 following release of a Government Accountability Office report revealing that individuals with disabilities faced barriers applying for testing accommodations, and some students with disabilities had to forgo taking exams with accommodations due to outright denials or extensive delays in the approval process. The report confirmed what the ABA Commission on Disability Rights had been hearing from individuals with disabilities about the process. The California Department of Fair Employment and Housing filed suit in 2012 against LSAC, and DOJ joined the suit later that year alleging violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The association also supported a California law signed in January 2013 by Gov. Jerry Brown requiring entities that administer law school admission tests to provide accommodations for test takers with disabilities to best ensure that test results reflect the skills of the test takers and not their disabilities. The LSAC sued the state, however, challenging the constitutionality of the law, and a Superior Court judge in in Sacramento granted a preliminary injunction against enforcement of the new law pending trial. On 1/14/14, the California Third District Court of Appeal overturned the injunction, and the law went into effect.

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