Pfizer wins race-bias case against minority fellowship program

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By Nate Raymond

(Reuters) – Friday’s federal court decision dismissed a lawsuit brought by a group medical professionals alleging that a fellowship program created by Pfizer Inc. to increase diversity in its higher ranks discriminates against applicants of Asian and white descent.

Do No Harm is a group that opposes “radical, divided, and discriminatory ideologies in healthcare”. Do No Harm claimed the Breakthrough Fellowship Program of drugmaker was discriminatory as only Blacks, Latinos, and Native Americans were eligible to apply.

U.S. District Judge Jennifer Rochon, Manhattan, ruled that the Virginia-based non profit had failed to prove it was legal to sue Pfizer. She said it wouldn’t identify any members of its group who couldn’t apply for the program because they were not white.

Instead, she said that the university submitted “perfunctory” declarations from two unnamed Ivy League students, both white and Asian-American, “without little to no information about their career, educational goals, employment histories, or interests.”

She stated that even if they could be identified, Do No Harm failed to prove that the two applicants were qualified for the fellowship program. This fellowship program aims to expand the pipeline of Black, Latino, and Native American leaders at Do No Harm.

Rochon was a Democratic President Joe Biden appointee. He stated that Do No Harm had no standing to pursue federal claims it made under various federal civil rights laws and anti-discrimination law.

Representatives of both Pfizer & Do No Harm didn’t respond to our requests for comment.

Pfizer created the fellowship in 2021. After completing the program, fellows are offered full-time employment, fully-funded master’s degrees, as well as two years of full time work at Pfizer in New York. It hopes to enroll 100 fellows in 2025.

This lawsuit was filed in September, one month before the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments against Harvard University and University of North Carolina in two cases that could decide the future of affirmative-action in higher education.

The Supreme Court, which is composed of a conservative 6-3 majority, appeared to be open to arguments from those who challenged the university’s admissions policies.

Do No Harm, which was launched in April last year, stated it wanted to “stop this intrusion of politics into healthcare systems and particularly medical education before they impact quality and accessibility to care.”

(Reporting by Nate Raymond, Boston; Editing By Leslie Adler).

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