Pfizer reportedly amended its criteria for a coveted fellowship program accused of discriminating against Asian and white applicants.
The “quiet” change, which was reported by Do No Harm this week, comes as the Virginia-based nonprofit moves to appeal a federal court’s rejection of its lawsuit against the pharmaceutical giant. Composed of medical professionals, Do No Harm sued Pfizer in September for allegedly discriminating against Asian and white applicants in its Breakthrough Fellowship Program. The nine-year commitment begins with a 10-week internship for college seniors and culminates in employment with the company after a fully funded master’s degree.
The program previously stated that applicants must “meet the program’s goals of increasing the pipeline for Black/African American, Latino/Hispanic and Native Americans.”
This led to Do No Harm’s suit, which cited two unidentified Ivy League students who supposedly met the fellowship’s academic requirements but ultimately failed to apply due to their race.
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With this, Do No Harm claimed that Pfizer has violated several federal and state laws. These include the Civil Rights Act of 1866, which prohibits racial discrimination in contracting; Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which prohibits racial discrimination among entities that receive federal funding; Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act, which prohibits racial discrimination in healthcare programs that receive federal funding; and human rights laws in New York State and New York City, which prohibit racial discrimination in internships, training programs and employment.
However, U.S. District Judge Jennifer Rochon in Manhattan ruled in December that Do No Harm failed to demonstrate a legal standing against Pfizer as it would not identify the two student plaintiffs. Even if they were identified, the nonprofit submitted “little to no details about their career and educational goals, employment history, or interests.”
Do No Harm subsequently filed an appeal.
Pfizer’s wording change followed, according to the nonprofit, with an FAQ section now stating: “You are eligible to apply for the Breakthrough Fellowship Program regardless of whether you are of Black/African American, Latino/Hispanic, or Native American descent.”
Do No Harm Chairman Stanley Goldfarm, MD, said in a statement that the nonprofit welcomes the change. However, its suit will move forward “to ensure that Pfizer does not continue or resume its racial discrimination that has no place in society.”
Do No Harm is pleased that Pfizer recognizes its blatant racial discrimination is unlawful and immoral. It is important to recognize that this significant change was made only after Do No Harm’s lawsuit, and only because Pfizer knows its fellowship is in jeopardy on appeal.
Pfizer has not expressly confirmed the change, which online search archives show as having occurred sometime this month, according to TND. However, the company released a statement maintaining its commitment to a “pipeline of diverse talent.”
We remain committed to the goals of the Breakthrough Fellowship Program, which is designed to cultivate a pipeline of diverse talent at Pfizer. We believe that the support of a broad coalition committed to DEI (diversity, equity and inclusion) strengthens our ability to meet these goals.