BGL Attorneys Secure Historic Injunction Against Discriminatory College Admissions


Ruling blocks two-tier discriminatory system and marks major step toward the elimination of standardized testing in college admissions

Judge Brad Seligman announced a groundbreaking decision in Kawika Smith v. Regents of the University of California, granting a preliminary injunction that requires the UC system to stop using the SAT and ACT as part of the admissions process immediately. The decision recognized that the use of the tests at UC campuses would create a two-tier system inaccessible to students with disabilities and ultimately harmful to students. The decision reflects the weight of testimony from leading experts on disability discrimination, racial and socioeconomic inequities in education, and standardized testing.

“Judge Seligman’s historic decision puts an end to racist tests that deprived countless California students of color, students with disabilities, and students from low income families of a fair shot at admissions to the UC system,” said Mark Rosenbaum, Director of Public Counsel’s Opportunity Under Law project. “The decision correctly recognized that what the Regents had done was set up a test optional scheme for students without disabilities, rank discrimination that treated students with disabilities as if they were disposable and of no value to the UC system. It’s a low point for the Regents that a lawsuit had to be the vehicle to eliminate meaningless tests that they had publicly acknowledged as ‘racist,’ serving no purpose other than to boost the chances for privileged students who could access expensive prep courses to be taught the ‘tricks’ to answering biased questions. There’s never been such a thing as a level playing field to admissions for our most underrepresented students, but this ruling at least evened that field a significant bit.”

The ruling recognized that under UC’s so-called “test-optional” policy, SAT and ACT scores would have afforded privileged, non-disabled students a “plus factor” or “second look” in admissions that would have been denied to less privileged students and students with disabilities who are unable to access the tests.

“There is no place at the University of California for policy that denies students with disabilities the opportunity to fairly compete for admissions. The Court’s decision today is a monumental step towards removing barriers long-faced by students with disabilities in higher education,” said Marci Lerner Miller of Miller Advocacy Group.

“The California court decision is a major step forward in the movement to eliminate reliance on ACT/SAT scores in college admissions,” said FairTest interim Executive Director Bob Schaeffer.  “The Preliminary Injunction is crystal clear that there cannot be a level playing field for test takers with disabilities. This ruling has national implications — the same protections under the Americans with Disability Act should apply to all test-takers across the nation.”

Currently, several UC campuses have eliminated the use of SAT and ACT scores in the admissions process including UC Berkeley, UC Santa Cruz, and UC Irvine, while other campuses, including UCLA, UC San Diego, and UC Riverside, planned to use a so-called “test-optional” policy. In late May, the UC Regents voted to eliminate the tests as part of their admissions process. This ruling recognizes that the tests must be eliminated now, and is effective immediately for rising seniors and anyone currently in the process of applying to a UC school.

“More than 170,000 students will apply to enter the University of California in fall 2021,” said Katherine Farkas at Scheper Kim & Harris. “For the first time in decades, the country’s preeminent public university system will not award admissions based on an exam that systematically discriminates on the basis of race, wealth and disability.  Because of this decision, high school seniors are no longer pressured to risk their health and the health of their loved ones to enhance their UC applications. Scheper Kim & Harris LLP is honored to be of service to the brave students and community organizations fighting for a more just educational system.”

“We are so proud of the courage the student plaintiffs showed by taking on the biggest university system and testing organizations in the country,” said Abigail Graber of Brown, Goldstein & Levy.  “We hope the light they and the court have shined on the barriers students with disabilities face will help guide a movement toward inclusive and equitable access to higher education.”

The plaintiffs in Kawika Smith v. Regents of the University of California are five individual students and six organizations: College Access Plan, Little Manila Rising, Dolores Huerta Foundation, College Seekers, Chinese for Affirmative Action, and Community Coalition. They are represented by Public Counsel, Scheper Kim & Harris, Equal Justice Society, Miller Advocacy Group, and Brown, Goldstein & Levy. Plaintiff Compton Unified School District, in the consolidated case Compton Unified School District v. Regents of the University of California, is represented by Olivarez Madruga Lemieux O’Neill.