Guckenberger v Boston University


In 1996, DRA filed a class action lawsuit on behalf of 10 students with learning disabilities challenging Boston University’s new policy for evaluating accommodation requests of students with learning disabilities as unreasonable, overly-burdensome, and in violation of the ADA, the Rehabilitation Act, and Massachusetts state law.

Plaintiffs challenged three aspects of Boston University’s policy:

  • BU had unreasonably erected a series of harsh eligibility requirements for students who sought accommodations for their learning disabilities, such as the requirement that all testing to document the disability must be no more than three years old and must be performed only by a licensed psychologist or a physician.
  • BU had subjected the students’ accommodation requests to an unfair evaluation and appeal procedure.
  • BU had imposed a discriminatory blanket prohibition against course substitutions for mathematics and foreign language.

In addition to the discriminatory treatment claims based on the university’s new accommodations policy, plaintiffs allege that defendants created a hostile learning environment for learning-disabled students, that the university breached its contractual agreement to provide reasonable accommodations for such students, and that the named students with learning disabilities at BU suffered severe emotional distress due to the university’s intentional refusal to deliver on those promises.

In 1997, the district court concluded that the BU’s documentation requirement concerning current testing unreasonably erected a series of harsh eligibility requirements for LD students who sought accommodations and that BU’s policy with respect to the qualifications of evaluators unnecessarily screened out or tended to screen out LD students. BU’s refusal to modify its degree requirements in order to provide course substitutions was motivated in substantial part by uninformed stereotypes. Thus, the court ruled that BU breached its contractual agreement by failing to honor its express representations to receive accommodations from the university and compensatory damages were awarded to the students for violations of breach of contract and violations of state and federal disability law.

Disability: Case Area: