The pharma giant has drawn backlash for offering a fellowship exclusive to students of black, Latino and Native American descent
Pharmaceutical giant Pfizer has drawn backlash over its ‘Breakthrough Fellowship’ program, which only accepts students of black/African, Latino/Hispanic, and Native American descent, barring white and Asian students from even applying.
In a Tuesday article published by the Washington Free Beacon, a number of civil rights lawyers stated that Pfizer’s fellowship program was “flagrantly illegal” and a clear violation of the Civil Rights acts of 1866 and 1964, which ban racial discrimination in employment and contracting.
Announced on the company’s website, the nine-year program says it offers college students multiple internships and a fully-funded master’s degree, as well as several years of employment at the pharmaceutical giant. Pfizer says it plans to “develop” 100 fellows by 2025 through the program, which it claims aims to “increase diversity by fostering a more inclusive workplace” and cultivating a “pipeline of diverse talent.”
However, lawyers quoted by the Washington Free Beacon say the fact that white and Asian students are barred from applying to the fellowship is blatant discrimination and is a “clear case of liability” under federal law.
“This Pfizer program is so flagrantly illegal I seriously wonder how it passed internal review by its general counsel,” Adam Mortara, one of the country’s top civil rights attorneys, told the outlet.
His opinion was seconded by Gail Heriot, a member of the US Commission on Civil Rights, who stated that “major corporations seem to have forgotten that there’s such a thing as law.”
“They seem to think that as long as they’re woke, they’re bulletproof,” Heriot noted.
Other lawyers contacted by the Free Beacon said that the case against Pfizer was “open-and-shut” and that the Breakthrough Fellowship was “obviously illegal” and a “very facial violation” of Civil Rights statutes.
While Pfizer has yet to officially respond to the accusations, it’s noted that some major US companies have previously scrapped race-conscious programs after being faced with discrimination lawsuits. One such example is Coca-Cola, which last year was pressured by the American Civil Rights Project to drop a requirement that partner law firms must staff at least 30 percent of their teams with “diverse lawyers.”
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