February 4, 2023

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Pfizer defeats racial bias lawsuit over minority grant program By Reuters

©Reuters.

By Nate Raymond

(Reuters) – A federal judge on Friday dismissed a lawsuit by a group of medical professionals alleging that a scholarship program set up by Pfizer Inc (NYSE:) to improve diversity in its senior ranks discriminates against white and Asian-American applicants.

Do No Harm, a group opposed to “radical, divisive and discriminatory ideologies” in healthcare, claimed the drugmaker’s Breakthrough Fellowship Program was discriminatory because only Black, Latino and Native Americans could apply.

But U.S. District Judge Jennifer Rochon in Manhattan ruled that the Virginia-based nonprofit failed to show it had the right to sue Pfizer and seek an injunction because it would not name members of its group who could not apply for the program due due to their race.

She said instead that she submitted “perfunctory” statements from two anonymous white and Asian-American students at unnamed Ivy League universities “with little to no details about their career and educational goals, work history, or interests.”

She said even if the two members were identified, Do No Harm had not demonstrated they qualified to apply for the grant program, which aims to expand the drugmaker’s pipeline of Black, Latino and Native American leaders.

Rochon, a nominee for Democratic President Joe Biden, said Do No Harm independently lacks the credibility to make the federal claims it has made under several federal civil rights and antidiscrimination laws.

Welcoming the ruling in a statement, Pfizer said it was “proud of its commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion.” A lawyer for Do No Harm did not respond to requests for comment.

Pfizer launched the grant in 2021. Upon completion of the program, grantees will receive two years of full-time positions, fully funded master’s degrees, and employment with Pfizer, based in New York. By 2025, 100 fellows are to be accepted.

The lawsuit was filed in September, a month before the US Supreme Court heard arguments in two cases against Harvard University and the University of North Carolina that could determine the future of affirmative action in higher education.

The Supreme Court, which has a conservative majority of 6-3, seemed receptive to arguments from challengers to the universities’ racially sensitive admissions policies.

Do No Harm was launched in April and said it wanted to “stop this infiltration of politics into the healthcare system, and medical education in particular, before it compromises the quality of and access to care”.