Posted on August 31, 2022

No Whites Allowed: Pfizer Fellowship Flagrantly Violates the Law, Lawyers Say

Aaron Sibarium, Washington Free Beacon, August 30, 2022

The pharmaceutical giant Pfizer offers a prestigious fellowship that bars whites and Asians from applying. Trumpeted on the company’s website as a “Bold Move” to “create a workplace for all,” civil rights lawyers are characterizing it in a different way: as a blatant violation of the law.

“This Pfizer program is so flagrantly illegal I seriously wonder how it passed internal review by its general counsel,” said Adam Mortara, one of the country’s top civil rights attorneys.

Pfizer’s “Breakthrough Fellowship” offers college students multiple internships, a fully funded master’s degree, and several years of employment at the pharmaceutical giant. It also restricts applications to “Black/African American, Latino/Hispanic and Native American” students, the fellowship requirements state.

In a Frequently Asked Questions brochure about the nine-year program, Pfizer asserts that it is an “equal opportunity employer.”

Gail Heriot, a member of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, described the fellowship as a “clear case of liability” under federal law: a violation of the Civil Rights Act of 1866, which bans racial discrimination in contracting, and Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which bans racial discrimination in employment.

“Major corporations seem to have forgotten that there’s such a thing as law,” said Heriot, who is also a law professor at the University of San Diego. “They seem to think that as long as they’re woke, they’re bulletproof.”


The pharmaceutical giant is not alone in flouting anti-discrimination law. From Uber to NASDAQ to JPMorgan Chase, a kind of casual lawlessness has descended across corporate America, with C-suites using—and publicizing—illegal racial quotas to achieve their diversity goals. That trend is especially acute in Silicon Valley: Google, for example, restricts the number of white and Asian men that universities can nominate for a prestigious Ph.D. fellowship, a policy that effectively encourages schools to violate civil rights statutes.

The Breakthrough Fellowship is part of a larger push within Pfizer to “embed DEI into our DNA,” per the company’s 2021 Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) report. Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla in 2020 made “equity”  one of the company’s four “core values” alongside excellence, courage, and joy. “We don’t just talk about the importance of equity,”  Bourla said at the time. “We put our words into action.”