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Pfizer Wins Dismissal of Lawsuit Challenging Fellowship Program Promoting Diversity

Paul, Weiss secured the denial of a preliminary injunction motion and the dismissal of a lawsuit brought against Pfizer Inc. by healthcare professionals association Do No Harm over Pfizer’s Breakthrough Fellowship Program, which is designed to address gaps in recruiting, retaining and promoting diverse talent. The prestigious fellowship program was launched in 2021 to advance the careers of students and young professionals of Black/African American, Latino/Hispanic and Native American descent. The program represents a nine-year commitment to each fellow and is aimed at diversifying the pharmaceutical giant’s leadership.

Do No Harm, a Virginia-based organization of medical and healthcare professionals created in early 2022, brought its suit and emergency motion for a preliminary injunction on September 15, 2022, seeking to block Pfizer from inducting its third class of Breakthrough Fellows and alleging that the program “categorically” discriminates against white and Asian American applicants. Do No Harm brought civil rights and racial discrimination claims under Section 1981 of the Civil Rights Act, Title VI and other federal, state and city laws in the Southern District of New York.

In its opposition to the motion, Pfizer argued that Do No Harm did not have standing to bring the suit because none of its members were identified by name, and vague statements by two of its members were given anonymously. Do No Harm’s contention that its members were “able and ready” to apply to the program but could not because of their race failed to show that the members suffered any actual injury because they did not provide specific information showing that they met the competitive academic and leadership qualifications required by the fellowship program, Pfizer argued.

Pfizer further contended that Do No Harm lacked standing to bring its Section 1981 claim because an association lacks standing to assert claims on behalf of its members under the Civil Rights Act in the Second Circuit. Do No Harm also lacked standing to bring claims under Title VI and Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act because Pfizer is not a healthcare provider and does not receive federal assistance as a whole, Pfizer argued.

U.S. District Judge Jennifer Rochon agreed with Pfizer’s arguments, denying the preliminary injunction and dismissing the suit for lack of subject matter jurisdiction.

“Indeed, the members’ statements that they joined Plaintiff’s newly created organization because they ‘support its mission as well as this lawsuit,’ further suggests a generalized grievance against Defendant’s alleged affirmative action efforts, not an actual desire by the members to apply to the Fellowship and work at Pfizer,” Judge Rochon noted in her order.

The Paul, Weiss team included litigation partners Loretta Lynch, Jeannie Rhee and Liza Velazquez, and counsel Martha Goodman.

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