The Law School Admission Council (LSAC), which administers the Law School Admission Test, faces attack on three sides for alleged refusal to accommodate some students with disabilities.
LSAC administers the Law School Admission Test (LSAT) to students who hope to go to law school. LSAT is a half-day, standardized test given four times each year.
The score for each student is an important factor in whether the student gets into law school, also which school the student might enter and in eligibility for scholarships.
LSAC, based in Newtown, Pa., has been sued before, for instance in 2009 by groups representing the blind. That lawsuit was settled in April 2011.
The new and larger dispute began in March when the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing sued LSAC in state court on behalf of 17 students who the state said have disabilities.
The suit was quickly transferred to federal district court in San Francisco.
Last week, on Sept. 5, the U.S. Justice Department filed a motion to intervene on behalf of the State of California and the 17 complainants.
On Thursday, a spokeswoman for LSAC, said, "We are not commenting on that lawsuit at this time."
Also on Sept. 5, the president of the American Bar Association, Laurel G. Bellows, sent a letter to California Gov. Edmund G. Brown Jr. regarding "LSAT Equity for Students with Disabilities."
Bellow's letter urged Brown to sign state Bill AB 2122, which specifically would require whoever administers the LSAT to provide testing accommodations to test takers who have disabilities.
California's original suit filed in March alleged that LSAC required unreasonable and excessive documentation from students with disabilities who sought special accommodations and that LSAC sometimes refused certain special accommodations.
The suit also said that when LSAC does allow students with disabilities extra time to take the LSAT — a common request — the LSAT flags their test scores with a notation showing those scores were "earned under nonstandard time conditions."
In addition, test scores earned with extra time are only reported individually, the suit says, and are not given a percentile ranking.
In a statement on why it seeks to intervene, the Justice Department said flagging test scores in this way discloses "confidential, disability-related information to law schools during the admissions process."
Flagging test scores also "is discrimination prohibited by the ADA," namely the federal Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), the Justice Department said.
"Credentialing examinations, such as the LSAT, are increasingly the gateway to educational and employment opportunities and the ADA demands that each individual with a disability has the opportunity to fairly demonstrate their abilities so they can pursue their dreams," said Thomas E. Perez, assistant attorney general for the U.S. Department of Justice's Civil Rights Division in the statement.
The California suit says that of the 17 complainants, six suffer attention deficit disorder; two are quadriplegics; one is a paraplegic; one has learning disorders; four have reading disorders; one has serious eye trouble; one has traumatic brain injury; and one has muscular problems that inhibit writing. (This summary can't convey the extent of the disabilities cited.)
The complainants typically seek extra time to take the test ranging from a few minutes up to triple the normal time, plus extra accommodations, such as a computer to write.
The federal motion to intervene adds five more people the government said were discriminated against by the LSAC.
Professor Henry H. Perritt Jr. of IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law said, "I think that the issues are important ones because on the one hand, the original lawsuit alleges LSAC was obstructionist … "
Perritt is author of the "Americans with Disabilities Act Handbook," (Aspen Publishers), published since 1992 and now in its fourth edition. He said he also supplements it twice a year and tries to read all appellate cases on ADA.
"On the other hand, it's very difficult to deal with requests for accommodation by people who alleged various types of learning disabilities," he said.
"I don't mean to say some of these are not legitimate," Perritt said, "but it's reasonable to imagine that some are at best questionable. We don't want a law school admission process that's going to throw the doors open to people who can't do the work."
Perritt said flagging test scores obtained under special conditions "is perfectly reasonable."
He compared it to workers with disabilities who request special accommodations from employers.
"I think it's perfectly appropriate for law schools to know what kind of accommodation is being requested … for people that might become part of their law student communities because ultimately, it's the law school that has to decide whether people are going to be able to do the work," he said.
"The litigation provides an opportunity for the controversies to be dealt with in a rigorous manner," Perritt said, "and for an independent judge to see whether the Justice Department is maybe pushing too hard."