The group that administers the Law School Admission Test has agreed to pay more than $7.6 million to settle allegations that it failed to offer appropriate accommodations to exam takers with disabilities.
The U.S. Justice Department announced Tuesday that the Law School Admission Council also agreed to end its practice of flagging the scores of test takers who are given extra time to complete the exam.
And LSAC agreed to streamline its handling of requests for accommodations and to consider additional changes that will be recommended by a panel of experts which has not yet been appointed.
LSAC, which is based in Newtown, Pa., did not acknowledge any liability by agreeing to the proposed consent decree.
LSAC contended that it has handled requests for accommodations using forms drawn up in 2002 in negotiations with the Justice Department. And the department has long been aware of LSAC’s practice of noting which test takers were given extra time, LSAC contended.
James R. Silkena
The Justice Department did not object to its practices, LSAC continued, until it decided in 2012 to join a pending lawsuit filed on behalf of a handful of test takers.
“We decided to resolve this case not because we believe that we were wrong in our position but because we do not think that continued litigation is in the best interests of our member schools or prospective law-school students,” LSAC wrote in a statement.
“It would have taken many years to conclude this litigation with enormous expense and disruption for LSAC and significant uncertainty for schools and applicants.”
The consent decree must be approved by U.S. District Judge Edward M. Chen of the Northern District of California before it goes into effect.
Chen is presiding over a suit initially filed in a California court by that state's Department of Fair Employment and Housing on behalf of 17 students.
The suit was removed to federal court in San Francisco. It was expanded to seek relief on behalf of test takers across the country after the Justice Department intervened in the case.
The suit alleged that LSAC violated the Americans with Disabilities Act by routinely denying requests for accommodations.
Among those denied accommodations, the suit alleged, were individuals with permanent disabilities and individuals who had been afforded accommodations when taking tests since they were children.
The suit alleged that LSAC also violated the ADA by annotating the scores of test takers who were accommodated with extra time.
Individuals seeking admission to law schools accredited by the American Bar Association are required to take the LSAT. The half-day, standardized test is offered four times a year.
ABA President James R. Silkenat said the consent decree, if approved, “will help ensure that our legal system is open to all.”
“A legal system cannot truly deliver justice if intentional or unintentional barriers prohibit the full participation of lawyers, judicial personnel and member of the public with disabilities,” Silkenat wrote in a statement.
“The American Bar Association has therefore long advocated for laws and policies to provide a range of accommodations in our legal institutions.”
Silkenat is a partner in the New York office of Sullivan & Worcester LLP.
Barry C. Taylor of Equip for Equality said he is pleased with the settlement.
Equip for Equality, which advances the rights of people with disabilities in Illinois, is not a party to the case; the organization has represented students over the years who said they were denied LSAT accommodations.
The settlement will help tear down some of the “long-standing barriers” that people with disabilities face, Taylor said.
In addition to the denial of accommodations, he said, those barriers include the discriminatory practice of identifying individuals given extra time to take the LSAT.
“It isn’t relevant, and it results in disclosing that a person has a disability,” Taylor said.
The fact that some people have disabilities that affect the way they process information or their physical ability to write down answers to questions, Taylor said, has nothing to do with their substantive knowledge of the law.
If the consent decree is approved, more than 6,000 people who applied for accommodations on the LSAT since Jan. 1, 2009, will be eligible to seek monetary awards from a victims' compensation fund.
Of the $7.65 million in the fund, $6.73 million will be available to those individuals.
An additional $945,000 will be divided among the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing, the U.S. government and three individuals who intervened as plaintiffs in the case.
The proposed consent decree calls for the appointment of a claims administrator to operate the fund.
And the decree requires LSAC to pay the plaintiffs $1 million in costs and attorney fees.
The case is Department of Fair Employment and Housing v. Law School Admission Council Inc., No. CV12-1830-EMC.