Class Action Defense Cases–Turner v. AAMC: California State Court Reverses Class Action Judgment In Favor Of Plaintiffs Holding California’s Civil Rights And Disabled Persons Act Did Not Apply To MCAT Standardized Tests

Dec 19, 2008 | By: Michael J. Hassen

California State Law does not Require Testing Accommodations for Reading-Related Learning Disabilities so Class Action Against Association of American Medical Colleges for Failing to Afford Accommodations, other than those Required by Federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Fails California State Court Holds

Plaintiffs, individuals with reading-related learning disabilities who applied to take the MCAT in California, filed a putative class action against the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) for violations of California’s Unruh Civil Rights Act and Disabled Persons Act; specifically, the class action complaint alleged that plaintiffs “requested more time and/or a private room in which to take the test,” but that the AAMC denied the requests, thus failing to afford them accommodations for reading-related disabilities. Turner v. Ass’n of American Medical Colleges, 167 Cal.App.4th 1401, ___ Cal.Rptr.3d ___, 97-98 (Cal.App. 2008). The Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) is a nonprofit organization that, among other things, develops and administers the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) in an effort to “predict success during medical school.” Id., at 97. Because the MCAT is timed, the AAMC gives reasonable accommodations to individuals with reading disabilities “such as additional time to complete the examination or a separate room to minimize distractions.” Id. The AAMC also “flags” such tests “to alert medical schools that the score should carry less weight relative to other factors in the admissions process.” Id. In the end, however, the accommodations made by the AAMC are “designed to level the playing field, not to give those individuals an advantage.” Id. The AAMC reviews accommodation requests under the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which requires that one seeking such accommodation demonstrate “a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more of the major life activities of such individual.” Id., at 98 (citation omitted). “This case presents the question of whether persons taking such tests in California are additionally entitled to accommodations under the State’s Unruh Civil Rights Act and Disabled Persons Act.” Id., at 97. The trial court, following a bench trial, ruled against the AAMC, and awarded plaintiffs’ counsel $2 million in fees, id., at 98-99. The Court of Appeal reversed, holding that California state law does not require testing accommodations for reading-related disabilities.

We do not discuss the appellate court opinion in detail. In brief, the Court of Appeal held: (1) that the Unruh Act “does not require the alteration of standardized testing conditions to accommodate applicants with learning and reading-related disabilities,” see Turner, at 100-03, and (2) that California’s Disabled Persons Act “guarantees access to public places but does not require a modification of standardized testing procedures to accommodate learning and reading-related disabilities,” see id., at 103-04. The appellate court concluded at page 104, “Individuals with learning and reading-related disabilities affecting their ability to rapidly process written information are entitled to reasonable accommodations when taking the MCAT, assuming they suffer from an impairment that ‘substantially limits’ the major life activities of reading and/or test-taking within the meaning of the ADA.” However, “AAMC is not required to utilize the more inclusive standard for assessing disabilities under the Unruh Act and DPA.” Id. Accordingly, it reversed the judgment of the trial court, id., at 105.

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