The ACLU of Indiana has filed a lawsuit against the members of the Indiana State Board of Law Examiners, alleging the state's bar examination application violates the Americans with Disabilities Act.
The suit, filed Tuesday in the U.S. District Court, Southern District of Indiana, Indianapolis Division, claims the application discriminates against some applicants because of perceived mental impairments by asking intrusive questions about an applicant's mental health, including whether or not he or she has been diagnosed with any mental, emotional, or nervous disorders.
If an applicant answers yes, they are required to complete another form with detailed information. It is then reviewed by State Board of Law Examiners members who determine whether further information or medical records are needed to assess the person's fitness to practice law in Indiana.
This is an issue that has been raised in three or four other states either in bar or medical licensing applications, said ACLU of Indiana Legal Director Ken Falk. He said the states' Supreme courts found ADA violations.
According to the application, the information is treated confidentially and the purpose is to determine fitness of the applicant to practice law. It also states the fact of treatment for mental health problems or addictions isn't in itself a basis for denying an applicant admission to the bar.
The suit was filed on behalf of Porter County resident Jane Doe, and others similarly situated. Doe is a member of the Illinois bar and an Indiana law school graduate who in order to practice here must take the bar exam. She has been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder and receives counseling. Doe hasn't seen any impairment in her ability to function in law school and since graduation because of her disorders. She applied for the bar in the fall of 2008. She answered the questions regarding her mental health status truthfully, upon which the members of the State Board determined she had to contact the Judges and Lawyers Assistance Program for a thorough review of her mental heath records and an evaluation. She then withdrew her application.
The suit argues Doe and others who have been diagnosed with various disorders are subjected to unnecessary and intrusive inquires into their mental health histories and have additional burdens imposed upon them. Doe wants to apply again in February 2010 but doesn't want to have to produce her medical records and be interviewed by JLAP.
The suit, Jane Doe, on her own behalf and on behalf of a class of those similarly situated v. The Individual Members of the Indiana State Board of Law Examiners, in their official capacities, No. 1:09-CV-0842, seeks class action status and asks the court to enter a declaratory judgment that the board violated the ADA. It also asks the court enter a preliminary injunction to prevent the defendants from asking the class any questions solely concerning past or present mental health diagnoses or treatment, and from preventing the board from discriminating against the plaintiffs because of those diagnoses.
Falk wasn't sure how long the mental health questions had been included in the application, but he said it had just been redone and the questions were kept in the revision.
Both the State Board of Examiners and Attorney General said they couldn't comment on the pending litigation.