A health care advocacy group has sued Pfizer in federal court, alleging the pharmaceutical giant violated the Civil Rights Act by excluding Whites and Asians from a racial equity fellowship.
Do No Harm filed the lawsuit Thursday in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York. It claims the New York-based company’s Breakthrough Fellowship Program defies the law’s color-blind definition of racial discrimination under Title VI because it accepts reimbursements from federal healthcare programs.
The complaint cites Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act, which extended the race neutrality requirement of the 1964 law to private entities that accept federal funds as a matter of “simple justice.”
“Pfizer’s open exclusion of white and Asian-American applicants is illegal,” states the complaint, which says it also breaks New York laws.
The lawsuit seeks a declaration of the fellowship’s illegality and an injunction overturning its requirement that fellowship applicants be Black, Latino or American Indian.
In a statement to The Washington Times, Pfizer defended the program’s effort “to create opportunities for people without taking them away from others.”
“Pfizer is an equal opportunity employer proud of its commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion as we strive to create a diverse workforce that represents the patients and communities we serve,” Pfizer said.
Pfizer has pledged to accept 100 fellows by 2025. The fellowship includes a summer internship for rising college seniors, two years of full-time employment after college, a corporate-funded scholarship for a two-year master’s program, another summer internship and a guarantee of postgraduate work.
The company website describes the fellowship as “a nine-year commitment to increase minority representation at Pfizer, designed to enhance our pipeline of diverse leaders.”