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Pfizer defends exclusion of Asian and white applicants in fellowship, says it’s ‘non-discriminatory’

  • Pfizer is standing by its fellowship program accused of discriminating against Asian and white applicants, saying it reverses “the effects of historical discrimination in the workplace.”

  • The nine-year program, known as the “Breakthrough Fellowship Program,” aims to boost the company’s diversity but is limited to “Black/African American, Latino/Hispanic and Native American” applicants.

  • Do No Harm, a nonprofit composed of medical professionals, filed a suit against Pfizer last month over the program, alleging that it violates multiple civil rights laws against racial discrimination.

  • Pfizer on Tuesday rejected Do No Harm’s claims as the nonprofit attempts to block the company from proceeding with accepting applications into the program.

  • Pfizer said the program “provides a legitimate, non-discriminatory basis for the use of racial selection criterion” and that there is “strong public policy in favor of voluntary affirmative action plans.”

  • The suit against Pfizer comes as the Supreme Court prepares to hear the affirmative action cases involving Harvard University and the University of North Carolina, which also allege discrimination against Asian and white applicants.

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Pfizer has defended its fellowship program accused of discriminating against Asian and white applicants, saying it reverses “the effects of historical discrimination in the workplace.”

The nine-year program, known as the “Breakthrough Fellowship Program,” aims to boost Pfizer’s workforce diversity but is limited to “Black/African American, Latino/Hispanic and Native American” applicants. It begins with a 10-week internship at the undergraduate level and culminates in employment with the company after a fully-funded master’s degree.

Last month, Do No Harm, a new nonprofit composed of medical professionals, filed a suit against Pfizer for violating the Civil Rights Act and other laws in connection with the program. Do No Harm says its mission is to “protect patients and physicians from woke healthcare [and] the racially divisive ideology threatening the quality of care in America.”

In a brief filed on Tuesday, Pfizer opposed the nonprofit’s request for a preliminary injunction, which would bar it from proceeding with the program. Breakthrough is scheduled to accept applications at the end of Summer 2022 and the beginning of Fall 2022.

“There exists a strong public policy in favor of voluntary affirmative action plans,” Pfizer said in its filing obtained by Reuters. “At a minimum, the public interest favors preserving the status quo.”

In its suit, Do No Harm accuses Pfizer of violating multiple civil rights legislation. As per the Washington Free Beacon, 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.

Pfizer rejected such allegations on Tuesday. The company said Breakthrough actually supports what the Supreme Court and Congress have encouraged, citing previous cases such as Grutter v. Bollinger in 2003, which ruled that the University of Michigan Law School did not violate the Equal Protection Clause by considering race in its admissions.

“The Fellowship provides a legitimate, non-discriminatory basis for the use of racial selection criterion,” Pfizer said. “By selecting fellows who meet the Fellowship’s goal of increasing the pipeline for minority leaders, Pfizer is working toward achieving its Opportunity Parity Goals, building a workforce that represents the diversity of the communities Pfizer serves, and contributing to the amelioration of the effects of historical discrimination in the workplace.”

The plaintiffs in Do No Harm’s lawsuit include two Ivy League students who claim to meet the academic requirements of the program; however, they do not qualify due to their race.

The suit also comes as the Supreme Court prepares to hear arguments on the affirmative action lawsuits involving Harvard University and the University of North Carolina on Oct. 31. Those cases also allege discrimination against Asian and white applicants.

 

Featured Image (cropped) via Norbert Nagel (CC BY-SA 3.0)

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