Admissions council appeals disability lawsuit

By Katy Stech
Daily Orange
March 18, 2004
When senior Abby Rothberg applied to law school this past fall, she got an early lesson in disability law.

The Syracuse University senior sued the Law School Admissions Council after it refused to accommodate her learning disability, Now, after a judge ruled in Rothberg's favor, LSAC is appealing the decision to a higher court.

In fourth grade, Rothberg, a political science and psychology major, was diagnosed with a learning disability that slows her ability to process information in a short period of time.

"My ability to process information is slower than my peers," Rothberg said. "So taking a timed test makes it pretty much impossible for me to compete with my peers."

As a result, Rothberg received 50 percent more time than her peers in high school, college and even on the ACT.

This fall, though, the LSAC didn't grant her request for extra time on the law school admissions test.

"I've had accommodations since I was 5 years old," Rothberg said. "I didn't think that this would be any different."

In response, Rothberg filed for a lawsuit, claiming that the denial violates the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. The act prevents discrimination against disabled persons when it comes to employment and services, such as standardized testing.

"Under the relevant law, in order for someone to be eligible to receive accommodations, they must have an impairment that substantially limits a major life activity such as working, seeing, walking or reading," said Arlene Kanter, a law professor and an expert in disability in law.

The trial, which began Jan. 28, was held in Denver, Rothberg's hometown. Her lawyer, Theresa Corrada, felt that Rothberg's psychological test results were the cases most powerful arguments.

"Our evidence of her disability was strong," she said. "We had two expert witnesses, two clinical psychologists, that testified that she fit the definition of individuals under the Disabilities Act."

Dr. Thomas Griffiths, a New York psychologist, found that Rothberg processed information better than 10 percent of her peers, according to the court testimony.

LSAC's lawyer, who declined to comment, based her primary argument on the fact that Rothberg scored in the 38th percentile - an average score - on the LSAT when she first took the test without accommodations in October, according to the testimony.

Rothberg, though, didn't accept that argument as valid.

"I feel that they're saying that if you have a learning disability, all you can ever do is average," Rothberg said. "I feel I can be above average if (LSAC) levels the playing field. And right now, the playing field isn't level because it's a timed test without accommodations."

Judge Wiley Daniel of the 10th District Court agreed with Rothberg, and on Feb. 7 ruled in her favor.

About two weeks later, LSAC appealed both the court's decision and an injunction that would have allowed Rothberg to use the results of her January test, in which she received special accommodations, in her law school application.

Kanter said Rothberg's case is similar to a 1997 case, Bartlett v. New York State Board of Law Examiners. Bartlett, who is dyslexic, applied for special accommodations during the New York state bar exam.

"At the final stage, the court held that the plaintiff was limited in the major life activity of reading when compared to the average reader," Kanter said.

She added that if the Rothberg case was filed in the New York's 2nd U.S. Circuit Court then the Bartlett case could have provided a precedent.

If the Colorado court upholds the appeal, the two different circuit courts will be in disagreement, which could bump the Rothberg case into a higher court.

"The Supreme Court will take cases if there is a split in the circuit," Kanter said. "So ultimately if the second circuit's decision comes to a different decision than the second decision in Bartlett, then the case could be ripe for Supreme Court review."