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Health Care Organization Sues Pfizer Over Minority Fellowship Program that Prohibits Asian and White Applicants

The group claims the company's eligibility requirements violate the Civil Rights Act and the Affordable Care Act

An organization representing medical professionals has filed a lawsuit against Pfizer, alleging the pharmaceutical company violated federal law by offering a fellowship program to certain racial groups.

Do No Harm argues that by specifically denying White and Asian people a spot in the Breakthrough Fellowship Program, Pfizer is perpetrating racial discrimination. 

The organization’s mission is to “protect healthcare from a radical, divisive, and discriminatory ideology.”

“Pfizer is blatantly discriminating against white and Asian-American applications, blocking the creation of contractual relationships solely based on race,” the organization argued in court documents. “Racial discrimination demeans us all the same even when it is done by private entities.”

Included in the filing are screenshots from an informational video describing the program that “makes it clear that 100 fellows will be selected from ’Black African Americans,’ ‘Latino Hispanics,’ and ‘Native American’ applicants.”

According to Do No Harm, at least two of its members who are ready and able to apply to the 2023 class of fellows are being harmed by the race requirements. 

The group believes Pfizer’s program violates Title VI of the Civil Right Act of 1964, Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act, and “New York State and New York City laws, which prohibit racial discrimination in, and racially discriminatory advertisements for, internships, training programs, and employment.”

“This Pfizer program is so flagrantly illegal I seriously wonder how it passed internal review by its general counsel,” attorney Adam Mortara, who is not affiliated with Pfizer or Do Not Harm, told The Washington Free Beacon in August.

Do No Harm is asking for a preliminary injunction that would prohibit Pfizer from selecting its next class of fellows based on race. The company would be required to use “race-neutral” eligibility requirements and be barred from posting advertisements for the program that are considered “racially discriminatory.” The organization is also seeking $1 in nominal damages.

Pfizer announced its Breakthrough Fellowship Program in 2021, noting that more than 2,600 people applied. 

The program offers undergraduate students a 10-week internship followed by 2 years of full-time employment after graduation. The fellows then receive a full scholarship to a full-time 2-year MBA, MPH or Masters of Statistics as well as summer internships, and a post-graduate job a Pfizer. 

Fellows must work at Pfizer for two years after completing their Master’s degree or repay the company for the cost of tuition.

The initial class of fellows was 40% Black/African American, 40% Latino/Hispanic, and 20% were two or more races. Additionally, 55% of the inaugural internship class was female and 45% male.

“This program is designed to enhance our pipeline of diverse talent of leaders,” Pfizer wrote in a description of the fellowship program. “The BFP, first of its kind will work to advance students and early career colleagues of Black/African American, Latino/Hispanic and Native American descent with a goal of developing 100 fellows by 2025.”

“We are committed to increasing diversity by fostering a more inclusive workplace,” the company added.

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