August 24, 2023

Group Behind Fearless Fund Lawsuit Targets Law Firms’ Diversity Fellowships, Alleging Racial Discrimination

The conservative group, American Alliance for Equal Rights, led by Edward Blum, has filed a lawsuit against law firms Perkins Coie and Morrison Foerster, challenging their diversity fellowships.

The lawsuits allege these fellowships unlawfully discriminate against white candidates and request that racial considerations be eliminated from fellowship selections.

The Law-Firms

Law firm Perkins Coie has diversity fellowships for first-year and second-year students from underrepresented backgrounds.

Their 1L – first fellowship offers students a $15,000 academic scholarship on top of a paid summer role, and their 2L- second-year- fellowship gives students $25,000.

They reaffirmed their dedication to diversity after the Supreme Court decided on Affirmative Action.

“We reaffirm our commitment to building a more diverse and inclusive workplace and the legal profession,” they posted on their website.

Morrison Foerster also began sponsoring legal diversity scholarship programs and created its fellowship program for 1Ls in 2012.

Their fellowship program gives $25,000 to students over two years.

Affirmative Action

Blum has been working toward the end of race-based admissions in higher education for years and was behind the founding of Students for Fair Admissions (SFFA), which won at the Supreme Court against Harvard and the University of North Carolina.

In their lawsuits, SFFA argued that Harvard’s admissions policies discriminated against Asian American applicants.

The Supreme Court accepted the case in 2022 and decided to strike down race-based affirmative action in higher education this year.

The Lawsuits

The suit against Perkins Coie alleges the firm has been “racially discriminating against future lawyers for decades.”

“Applicants do not qualify unless they are “students of color,” “students who identify as LGBTQ+”, “or students with disabilities,” it reads.

The second suit against Morrison Foerster alleges that the firm’s Keith Wetmore Fellowship for Excellence, Diversity and Inclusion only considers “African American/ Black, Latinx, Native Americans/Native Alaskans, and members of the LGBTQ+ community.”

Forbes reported that the percentage of African-American lawyers has remained mostly stagnant for the past decade, accounting for only 5% of the legal profession.

Equal Justice Works (EJW) CEO Verna Williams said, “Black lawyers are critical to constructing a justice system that serves all people.”

“If our laws and justice system continue to be shaped by the few, they will continue only to serve the few and engender respect from even fewer.”

Earlier this month, Blum also brought a lawsuit against Fearless Fund, which supports women of color who own small businesses.

The lawsuit accuses Fearless Fund of violating Section 1981 of the Civil Rights Act of 1886, which bars racial bias in private contracts by opening its grant competition to Black women alone.

Fearless Fund released a statement stating it saw a significant gap in funding for women-owned businesses, particularly for women of color.

They explained in 2022, venture capital firms deployed $288 billion, with women of color founders only receiving 0.39% of the total funding.

A decision on the lawsuit against Fearless Fund has yet to happen, but they have petitioned for supporters to join their fight against the case.

Sara Keenan

Tech Reporter at POCIT. Following her master's degree in journalism, Sara cultivated a deep passion for writing and driving positive change for Black and Brown individuals across all areas of life. This passion expanded to include the experiences of Black and Brown people in tech thanks to her internship experience as an editorial assistant at a tech startup.