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Transformative Changes in Diversity Fellowship Programs: Morrison Foerster’s Response to Legal Challenge
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A corporate law firm, Morrison Foerster, has made a significant policy change in response to a lawsuit alleging racial discrimination in its diversity fellowship program. The firm, headquartered in San Francisco, recently faced legal action for allegedly excluding nonminority students from the program. The American Alliance for Equal Rights (AAER) initiated the lawsuit, led by conservative activist Edward Blum, known for his involvement in cases related to affirmative action in college admissions. Blum’s organization is now part of a broader campaign to challenge diversity initiatives in the private sector.

Morrison Foerster is one of two law firms facing legal challenges regarding diversity fellowships. The AAER lawsuit asserts that the Keith Wetmore Fellowship for Excellence, Diversity, and Inclusion at Morrison Foerster discriminated against applicants based on race. Initially launched in 2012, the fellowship was described as intended for first-year law students from “a diverse population that has historically been underrepresented in the legal profession,” including Black, Latino, Native American, and LGBTQ+ individuals.

Following the lawsuit’s filing, all references to race were removed from the program page on Morrison Foerster’s website. This change reflects the uncertainty surrounding the future of such diversity programs in light of legal scrutiny as stakeholders attempt to align with the Supreme Court’s race-blind stance on college admissions in the private sector.


The revised program now emphasizes recognition of “exceptional first and second-year law students with a demonstrated commitment to diversity and inclusion in the legal profession.” The Washington Free Beacon initially reported this adjustment. However, Morrison Foerster did not comment in response to The Washington Post’s request for input.

Among the criteria for fellowship applicants, Morrison Foerster now highlights the importance of candidates bringing “a diverse perspective to the firm through adaptability, cultural fluency, resilience, and life experiences.” Additionally, a “demonstrated commitment to promoting diversity, inclusion, and accessibility” is emphasized.

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Universities and private employers are navigating uncertain terrain amid ongoing legal battles over diversity and inclusion efforts. Kenneth Davis, a professor of law and ethics at Fordham University, notes that both sectors grapple with significant pushback and seek ways to maintain diversity initiatives while addressing legal challenges.

The legal industry, in particular, has long struggled to diversify its workforce. Despite Black people comprising about 14 percent of the U.S. population, less than 5 percent of practicing attorneys are Black, with marginal growth since 2010. The broader category of ethnic minorities in the legal profession has only seen a 6 percent increase since 2010, according to the American Bar Association.

Since the Supreme Court ruled against affirmative action in college admissions in late June, a flurry of legal activity has emerged, testing the court’s stance on considering race in employment matters. In July, 13 attorneys general penned a letter to Fortune 100 CEOs, warning of potential consequences for corporate diversity, equity, and inclusion programs resulting from overturning affirmative action. Conservative nonprofit America First Legal, backed by former Donald Trump adviser Stephen Miller, has filed complaints against companies like Kellogg, Nordstrom, and Activision Blizzard, alleging racial discrimination in their diversity and inclusion policies.

In addition to the lawsuits against Morrison Foerster and Perkins Coie, AAER has also sued Fearless Fund, a venture capital firm in Atlanta, over its grant program for early-stage businesses owned by Black women. The cases against Morrison Foerster and Perkins Coie allege violations of a section of the Civil Rights Act of 1866, which prohibits racial discrimination in contracts.

The complaint against Morrison Foerster contends that by maintaining a fellowship program exclusively for law students of specific racial and LGBTQ+ backgrounds, the law firm has engaged in racial discrimination against future lawyers for over a decade. Perkins Coie, the other firm facing legal action, declined to comment on potential program alterations, stating they would vigorously defend against the lawsuit.

The Keith Wetmore Fellowship includes a paid summer associate position, mentorship from attorneys, and an award of $25,000 upon completing the summer program, with an additional $25,000 for returning students who accept full-time jobs upon graduation.

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The lawsuits against Morrison Foerster and Perkins Coie seek temporary restraining orders to prevent the selection of fellows, along with permanent injunctions to end the programs. They also seek declarations that the programs violate the civil rights statute. AAER is awaiting a formal response from Morrison Foerster regarding their motion for a preliminary injunction.

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