Drexel Law student William Hanrahan filed a lawsuit Nov. 6 against Dechert LLP claiming its hiring process violated the American with Disabilities Act.
Of the three law schools in Philadelphia proper — Drexel University, Temple University and University of Pennsylvania — Drexel enrolls the greatest proportion of disabled students. At the time of Hanrahan’s application to the company, Dechert consistently only hired UPenn and Temple law students. Hanrahan makes the claim that Dechert engaged in disparate impact discrimination by doing this — that their preference for Temple and Penn had a discriminatory effect since most students with disabilities go to Drexel Law.
Hanrahan is currently 26 and in his third and final year of law school at Drexel. Over the summer of 2013, he interviewed for a summer associate position at Dechert — an international law firm with a myriad of top ranking practices. Hanrahan, at the time, ranked fourth in his class and had one prior legal internship under his belt.
“Summer associates are usually paid at about the same rate as first year associates and perform some of the same tasks that first year associates do. Most large law firms usually give most or all of their summer associates offers to return as associates after graduation,” Hanrahan explained in an email.
However, in September, Hanrahan was informed he had been turned down for the job.
Around 15 years ago, Hanrahan was diagnosed with Asperger syndrome, a disorder which falls on the autism spectrum. Those with Asperger’s often have difficulty with nonverbal communication and social interaction. When a condition substantially limits “major life activities,” it qualifies as a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Over the 2013-2014 school year, three percent of the total 420 students at Drexel’s Kline School of Law were classified as having a disability, while the same was true of two percent of Temple’s 769 students and 0.1 percent of UPenn’s 774 students.
This means that Drexel Law enrolled 14 out of the 32 disabled law students attending law school in Philadelphia County.
“It is not a secret that most large law firms hire disproportionately from highly ranked [by U.S. News & World Report] law schools,” Hanrahan wrote.
This preference in itself is not a problem, but Dechert may be inadvertently discriminating against disabled students.
The lawsuit also claims that the Law School Admissions Council, administrator of the Law School Admission Test, has a long history of neglecting to give disabled students the accommodations they are entitled to under the Americans with Disabilities Act and of divulging to law schools which students had been accommodated.
The complaint further states that such discriminatory practices lead to students with disabilities going to law schools with lower national rankings. In this specific case, Drexel was ranked No. 126 out of all law schools in the nation by the U.S. News & World Report rankings, compared to UPenn at No. 7 and Temple at No. 56.
“By utilizing the policy or practice of hiring disproportionately from among the students and graduates of highly ranked law schools…Defendant uses a hiring practice or policy that screens out or tends to screen out disabled candidates,” the case file stated.
Ideally, Hanranhan hopes the outcome of the case will lead to a declaration that Dechert’s hiring practice violates the Americans with Disabilities Act and an injunction that would perpetually prevent Dechert from hiring disproportionately from higher-ranked law schools.
He also wishes for Dechert to send him a job offer like those who held the summer associates job during the summer of 2014 received, or alternatively $145,000 — the amount a typical associate gets paid in one year — in compensation.
Dechert declined to comment on the case.