University of Washington sued for discrimination

Law School accused of using illegal racial preferences in admissions

Washington, D.C. – Katuria Smith, assisted by the Washington, D.C. based Center for Individual Rights (CIR), filed a lawsuit late yesterday claiming that the University of Washington School of Law (UWSL) discriminated against her on the basis of her race (white) in the operation of its admission system. The case is strikingly similar to Hopwood v. Texas, last year’s landmark case in which CIR successfully challenged racial preferences in student admissions at the University of Texas School of Law.

In 1994, Katuria Smith applied for admission to the University of Washington School of Law. Despite an outstanding record, including cum laude honors from the University of Washington School of Business Administration, a stellar 94th percentile score on the Law School Admissions Test (LSAT), Washington State residency, and a history of overcoming economic hardship by working significant hours during her undergraduate education, Ms. Smith was denied admission to UWSL.

Following her denial, Smith discovered that then Dean Wallace Loh implemented policies upon his arrival in 1990 to increase the proportion of minority students at the law school. In his first year as dean, the school’s minority enrollment rates (which were already in parity with the 14.5% minority population of the state) increased by more than 100%. Between 1990 and 1994, the school maintained remarkably consistent minority enrollment rates of 37-43%.

According to documents obtained from the university, minority applicants were given separate consideration, resulting in admission’s offers (despite scores which would have otherwise earned a rejection) based on race. Far from being an equal “plus factor,” applicants seen as contributing to diversity other than ethnic diversity were put through a much more rigorous screening process.

Ms. Smith’s lawsuit, which seeks to end UWSL’s discriminatory admission policy and to obtain appropriate damages, alleges that UWSL used different admissions standards based on race. Race was not used merely as a plus factor: students from favored racial groups had a significantly greater chance of admission that non-favored students with similar academic credentials. Smith’s lawsuit also alleges that disfavored applicants were not compared directly to applicants from favored racial groups.

Michael S. Greve, Executive Director of the Center for Individual Rights, said “The University of Washington operates a drastic preferential affirmative action system which does not address a compelling state interest. The only significant official discrimination at UWSL has been against those in the majority.”