Lawsuit claims Pfizer fellowship discriminates against whites and Asians

A national association of medical professionals has filed a lawsuit against pharmaceutical giant Pfizer , alleging that the company runs a fellowship that illegally excludes white and Asian American applicants.

Do No Harm claimed that Pfizer’s Breakthrough Fellowship Program violates several state and federal laws as it is racially discriminatory and requires that applicants meet its stated aim of “increasing the pipeline for Black/African American, Latino/Hispanic and Native Americans.”

“Pfizer’s race requirement is not neutral — it constitutes an express classification (indeed, exclusion) based on race. Pfizer is requiring that applicants not be white or Asian American to be eligible to apply to the Fellowship,” the lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New Yorkon Thursday reads .

The group, whose mission is to protect healthcare from “radical, divisive, and discriminatory ideology,” argued that the fellowship violates the 1964 Civil Rights Act, the New York State Human Rights Law, the Affordable Care Act, and the New York City Human Rights Law.

Title VI of the Civil Rights Act bars discrimination for any activity or program receiving federal funding, which the lawsuit alleges applies to Pfizer as it has programs funded by the National Institutes of Health .

A spokesperson for Pfizer said that the company is an “equal opportunity employer proud of its commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion as we strive to create a diverse workforce.”

The fellowship in question exclusively welcomes applications from certain minorities, though the company stipulates in a frequently asked questions section that an applicant not “from a minority group identified” can apply for other programs and opportunities within Pfizer. Those who are selected for the program and are successful fellows are offered a summer internship and two years of full-time employment after graduation, followed by a fully paid scholarship for a full-time 2-year MBA, master’s of public health, or M.S. statistics program.

The lawsuit is seeking a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction to bar the company from proceeding with selecting its next fellowship class until receiving further direction from the court and prevent Pfizer from “posting racially discriminatory advertisements” for the fellowship.

It also requests that the court grant a permanent injunction barring the company from continuing its “racially discriminatory eligibility requirements” for the fellowship.

Do No Harm has previously filed lawsuits grounded on similar arguments, including one earlier this month in Washington, D.C., against Project Hope and its publication Health Affairs, alleging that its “race-segregated health journal fellowship” excludes white applicants. Dr. Stanley Goldfarb, the chairman of Do No Harm, said that the group is opposed to “discrimination in all of its manifestations” in a statement .

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