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Blind Law School Applicant’s Suit Contends ABA Violates ADA by Promoting LSAT

Posted May 25, 2011 1:00 PM CDT
By Martha Neil

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A federal lawsuit filed in Michigan yesterday by a legally blind law school applicant contends that the American Bar Association is discriminating against the blind and visually impaired in the manner in which it accredits law schools.

By pushing law schools to use the Law School Admission Test administered by the Law School Admission Council, the ABA, though its law school accreditation rules, imposes a discriminatory test requiring "spatial reasoning and the ability to diagram," alleges the complaint (PDF) filed by Angelo Binno in the Eastern District of Michigan.

It says the ABA is violating the Americans with Disabilities Act. The suit seeks a declaratory judgment that the ABA has violated the plaintiff's rights under the ADA and injunctive relief but does not seek either compensatory damages or attorney fees at this time, said attorney Richard Bernstein of the Sam Bernstein Law Firm, who represents Binno. A press release by the Bernstein law firm says the suit also seeks "an injunction restraining the ABA from further administering accreditation to law schools until it complies with the ADA and cease[s] implementation of the LSAT requirement of law schools, which discriminates against individuals with disabilities."

Requiring the LSAT not only puts those who don't see at a distinct disadvantage, but forces them to take a test that focuses on skills that are not essential to the practice of law, Richard Bernstein adds.

In addition to making it difficult or impossible for those who are visually impaired to attend top-tier law schools because of low LSAT scores, requiring those who can't see to take the test discourages some from going to law school at all and thus reduces the number of lawyers who, like himself, are driven to enforce the rights of the disabled, Bernstein told the ABA Journal yesterday in a telephone interview.

However, language from ABA standards quoted in the suit indicates that law schools have the option to substitute another test for the LSAT. Law schools must administer "a valid and reliable test" to applicants, the standards state. "A law school that uses an admission test other than the Law School Admission Test sponsored by the Law School Admission Council shall establish that such other test is a valid and reliable test to assist the law school in assessing an applicant's capability to satisfactorily complete the school's educational program."

The ABA's general counsel, Thomas Howell, declined to comment when contacted yesterday by the ABA Journal, saying that the ABA has not been served with the lawsuit.

Bernstein said he earned his law degree from Northwestern University in the 1990s, after the school admitted him without requiring him to take the LSAT because of his own visual impairment. But today, he says, law schools routinely and unfairly require those who can't see to take the LSAT. He says that resulted from an ABA revision of a relevant law school accreditation standard that now gives law schools no choice but to require all applicants to take the LSAT.

As the lawsuit puts it, "Standard 503 of the ABA Standards for Approval of Law Schools, and the corresponding sanctions contained in Rule 13 of the Standards for Approval of Law Schools, directly discriminate against plaintiff, and other qualified individuals with disabilities, by mandating that the plaintiff takes an inherently discriminatory examination and disallowing any law school from waiving the examination as a reasonable accommodation."

Bernstein says Binno applied to three law schools, all of which refused to waive the LSAT requirement. In contrast to past practices of former decades, this is a standard approach taken by law schools today, he contends.

Additional coverage:

CNN: "Blind man files discrimination suit over law school admission test"

Detroit Free Press: "West Bloomfield man fights for law school test waiver"

Wall Street Journal Law Blog: "Federal Suit Claims LSAT Discriminatory"

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