Pfizer offers 'Breakthrough Fellowship Program' that excludes Asian and White applicants

Pfizer's new program is a 9-year commitment that includes a fully-funded master's degree and guaranteed employment

Pfizer recently launched a "Breakthrough Fellowship Program," which includes a scholarship for a graduate degree and guaranteed employment, for students and "early career colleagues of Black/African American, Latino/Hispanic and Native American descent," a requirement that could run afoul of federal law. 

The program, which aims to enroll 100 fellows within three years, is a 9-year commitment for those who are accepted. In addition to a fully-funded master's degree, fellows also get a summer internship, two years of employment after undergraduate graduation, and a return to Pfizer after graduate studies. 

The pharmaceutical giant lists several requirements for potential applicants, such as demonstrating "exceptional leadership potential," having at least a 3.0 GPA, and meeting the "program’s goals of increasing the pipeline for Black/African American, Latino/Hispanic and Native Americans."

"One of Pfizer’s Bold Moves is to create a workplace for all, and we are committed to increasing diversity by fostering a more inclusive workplace," the company wrote. 

Phizer logo

Pfizer is offering a ‘Breakthrough Fellowship Program.’ (REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration / Reuters Photos)

Asian Americans, a minority that makes up 6.1% of the US population, are not included in Pfizer's list of minorities who can apply. White Americans, who make up 59.3% of the population, also aren't included. 

Gail Heriot, a University of San Diego law professor and member of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, told the Washington Free Beacon that the program has a "clear case of liability" under federal law, which prohibits employment discrimination based on race. 

"Major corporations seem to have forgotten that there’s such a thing as law," Heriot told the news outlet. "They seem to think that as long as they’re woke, they’re bulletproof."


A spokesperson for Pfizer said the company is proud of its commitment to diversity, inclusion, and equity. 

"We have every confidence that all of our actions comply fully with all U.S. employment laws, including the Breakthrough Fellowship Program," the spokesperson told FOX Business. "At Pfizer, we create opportunities for people without taking them away from others. We will continue to strive to create more opportunity, including through specific programs designed to cast a wide net for talent."

Pfizer logo

FILE PHOTO: Test tubes are seen in front of a displayed Pfizer logo in this illustration taken, May 21, 2021.  (REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration/File Photo / Reuters)

Nick Fortuna, a corporate attorney who concentrates on employment litigation, said that private employers can provide enhanced opportunities to groups that have been historically discriminated against, but the the legality of the program will be determined by how it is implemented. 

"The way the employer does it will be subject to scrutiny to ensure it does not prejudice people that are in protected classes and not benefiting from the program," Fortuna told FOX Business. 


Under a question in the FAQ section of the program that addresses minorities who aren't included, such as Asian Americans, Pfizer says that it is an equal opportunity employer. 

"We have multiple programs and opportunities throughout the year for undergraduate and graduate students and for Pfizer colleagues generally. For example, any colleague can pursue an MBA or MPH through Pfizer Benefits’ Education Assistance Program," the company wrote.