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Disabled Grads Sue in Calif. Over Bar Exam, Claim Virus Risk (1)

Sept. 15, 2020, 6:01 PMUpdated: Sept. 15, 2020, 9:46 PM

Plans for disabled law school graduates to take the California bar exam in-person puts them at special risk of contracting Covid-19, according to a new lawsuit.

As many as 11,000 people are scheduled to take the exam online Oct. 5-6, but a small group has been asked to travel to sit for it in-person to accommodate special needs.

Three disabled test takers say being forced to risk exposure to coronavirus violates the Americans with Disabilities Act and a California civil rights law. They filed a lawsuit Monday against the State Bar of California and the National Conference of Bar Examiners.

“In planning and designing this remote administration, the STATE BAR disregarded the needs and rights of a small number of test takers with disabilities,” the plaintiffs, Kara Gordon, Isabel Callejo-Brighton, and John Doe, said.

The bar examiners are aware of the complaint and plan a future response, a spokesperson said.

According to an emailed statement from State Bar of California Interim Executive Director Donna Hershkowitz, the bar has not engaged in any unlawful discrimination in the administration of the October bar exam.

“In order to fulfill its public protection mission, the State Bar of California must preserve the integrity and security of the exam while providing equal and safe access,” Hershkowitz wrote. “Testing accommodations that fundamentally alter the nature of the exam are not required to be implemented. The COVID-19 protocols that will be in place for in-person administration of the bar exam for both disabled and nondisabled test-takers follow national and state public health guidelines to minimize the risk of infection spread during this unprecedented pandemic.”

The trio of test takers argued they should be allowed to complete the exam online. They said the two-tiered system is “unfair and dangerous” to disabled test takers “forced to test in person and endure risks to their health and test performance.”

The group said they are at special risk because their underlying medical conditions, or conditions of their family members, could mean severe complications should they contract Covid-19.

Gordon’s condition makes it difficult to use a computer screen for long periods, according to the suit. It would be difficult for Callejo-Brighton to stay in front of the web camera for entire test sections because of her “consistent” need for bathroom access. They argued that by taking the test online and from home, they would be able to self-accommodate.

Twenty-three states held in-person bar exams in July as cases of Covid-19 rose across the country, prompting outcry from many affected test takers. At least eight states required test takers to sign waivers agreeing not to sue if they became sick from the virus.

Though the plaintiffs said California’s plans for most to take the exam remotely is preferable, several groups want state administrators to reconsider, in large part because of the unreliability of online bar exams, as evidenced by problems exhibited in other states.

On Monday, a group of California law school deans urged the California Supreme Court to drop remote proctoring in favor of an “open book” test that doesn’t limit the materials students may consult.

Kara Gordon, Isabel Callejo-Brighton and John Doe vs. State Bar of California and National Conference of Bar Examiners, N.D. Cal., 3:20-cv-06442, 9/14/20

(The new sixth and seventh paragraphs include a response to the suit from a State Bar of California official.)

To contact the reporter on this story: Sam Skolnik in Washington at

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Chris Opfer at; Rebekah Mintzer at