A group of healthcare professionals have sued Pfizer Inc for running a discriminatory fellowship program that excludes white and Asian applicants.
The group, Do No Harm, filed a complaint on September 12th in Manhattan federal court targeting the pharmaceutical giant’s Breakthrough Fellowship Program. The COVID-19 vaccine maker’s program was labeled “discriminatory on its face” by the group because only Blacks, Latinos, and Native Americans can apply.
Run out of New York, the fellowship program is part of the company’s broader, nine-year commitment to boost minority representation, aiming to enroll 100 fellows in the program by 2025. Participants receive a guaranteed two-year full-time job after graduating from college, fully-subsidized master’s degrees, and employment at Pfizer after completing the program.
In contrast, Do No Harm describes itself as a group seeking to advocate against “radical, divisive, and discriminatory ideology” in healthcare. “Racial discrimination demeans us,” and Pfizer’s “open exclusion of white and Asian-American applicants is illegal,” the complaint said, citing the opinions of two conservative Supreme Court justices, Clarence Thomas and the late Antonin Scalia.
The lawsuit seeks injunctions barring the pharmaceutical giant from making race a relevant factor in obtaining fellowships and preventing it from filling the 2023 class under current eligibility rules. Do No Harm also seeks $1 in nominal damages.
As explained in the lawsuit, the group believes Pfizer’s program violates federal, New York state, and New York City civil rights law in addition to the federal ban on racial discrimination that applies to companies accepting reimbursements from government healthcare programs.
In a statement, Pfizer admitted it had not reviewed the lawsuit, but had “every confidence” that the fellowship program complied with all U.S. employment laws.
“We will continue to strive to create more opportunity, including through specific programs designed to cast a wide net for talent,” it added.
The lawsuit follows intense scrutiny over Pfizer’s role in COVID-19 vaccine mandates across the U.S. in addition to controversy over the efficacy of its vaccines.