© Reuters. Pfizer logo is seen in this illustration taken, May 1, 2022. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration

By Jonathan Stempel

NEW YORK (Reuters) – A group of medical professionals that advocates against “radical, divisive, and discriminatory ideology” in healthcare sued Pfizer Inc (NYSE:) on Thursday, saying the drugmaker runs a fellowship that illegally excludes white and Asian-American applicants.

In a complaint filed in Manhattan federal court, the plaintiff Do No Harm called Pfizer’s Breakthrough Fellowship Program “discriminatory on its face” because only Blacks, Latinos and Native Americans can apply.

It said the program violates federal, New York state and New York City civil rights laws, as well as a federal ban on racial discrimination by companies that accept reimbursements from government healthcare programs.

“Racial discrimination demeans us,” and Pfizer’s “open exclusion of white and Asian-American applicants is illegal,” the complaint said, citing opinions of two conservative Supreme Court justices, Clarence Thomas and the late Antonin Scalia.

The lawsuit seeks injunctions barring Pfizer from making race a factor in obtaining fellowships, and preventing it from filling the 2023 class under current eligibility rules. It also seeks $1 in nominal damages.

In a statement, Pfizer said 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.

Do No Harm had no immediate additional comment. The Glen Allen, Virginia-based group said its members include doctors, other healthcare professionals, medical students, patients and policymakers.

Based in New York, Pfizer said the fellowship program https://www.pfizer.com/about/careers/breakthrough-fellowship-program is part of a nine-year commitment to boost minority representation, and that the company aims to enroll 100 fellows by 2025.

Fellows receive two years of full-time jobs after graduating from college, fully-funded master’s degrees, and employment at Pfizer after completing the program.

In a statement on Pfizer’s website, Chief Executive Albert Bourla said the program can help “lead to parity at all levels to create a vibrant culture where every colleague has the opportunity to succeed.”

The case is Do No Harm v Pfizer Inc, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, No. 22-07908.

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