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Sunday, November 12, 2006



When is the ADA irrelevant (or a bad authority) to a testing discrimination claim? In California, at least in this case. Here, state law shines, and the ADA runs a dismal second.

In an illustration of how one can read the same texts, and see its meaning differently, those involved in the Turner case issued contrasting descriptions of it. My reading is yet a third view (see my thoughts at paragraph 7 below).

1. Oakland-based Disability Rights Advocates, long known for significant landmark litigation, won a decision in a recent class action that thee Medical School Admissions Test (MCAT) does not comply with state civil rights laws; the MCAT accommodations process is too stringent. The exam's administrator was ordered to revamp its accommodation review procedure. DRA has stated that, because the MCAT is similar to other standardized tests, such as the SAT and Law School Admission Test (LSAT), "the decision is expected to have a ripple effect across the testing industry." DRA Release,

2. The Association of American Medical College issued a response to the decision. AAMC disagreed with the decision but minimized its scope, stating that the court "merely decided whether California's two general disability laws applied to the MCAT." AAMC "believes that the AMericans with Disabilities Act (ADA) provides an appropriate national standard for evaluating accommodation requests on national tests such as the MCAT examination." AAMC Release,

3. The case involved plaintiffs with learning disabilities and or ADHD and was filed under STATE LAW only. There was NO CLAIM under the Americans with DIsabilities Act. This choice of state law was key to the plaintiffs' victory. State law requires "full and equal access." The state Superior Court found -- and apparently both sides in the case agree -- that state law's standard is LESS STRINGENT than that under the federal ADA.

4. AAMC applies the federal ADA standard on who is disabled. Since state law establishes an easier-to-satisfy test, one might fail to obtain accommodations under the ADA but win them under California law. As the court put it, "AAMC admits that there are individuals in California who might be given testing accommodations if the Unruh Act or Disabled Persons Act standards governed their requests for testing accommodations, but who would be denied such accommodations if the ADA standards governed."

5. The court did not rule on the individual plaintiff's claims, and made it clear it would not address the indvidual claims of class members. "The Court will not retain jurisdiction to act as a centralized administrative body for reviewing how the AAMC handles individual applications."

6. DRA appears to have done a masterful job in educating the court on disabilities generally, and on learning disabilities in particular. The record was full and complete. This sort of presentation is a model for similar cases.

7. MY THOUGHTS. I would expect this case to a) encourage other filings under state laws which may be similar to California's, b) have little effect on federal ADA litigation, but c) encourage efforts to amend or clarify the ADA's standard. Also, the education provided the court on testing and learning disabilities can be a model for others in similar efforts.

For text of decision, see the PDF/TEXT links in the DRA release above at Par. 1.

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