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Discrimination lawsuit dropped after law firm opens fellowship to all students

The conservative group behind several lawsuits challenging diversity, equity and inclusion programs has dropped its lawsuit against the law firm Morrison Foerster after the firm opened its diversity fellowship to all students — not just to those who belong to underrepresented groups.

In a filing Friday, the American Alliance for Equal Rights said it dismissed its lawsuit that alleged Morrison Foerster’s diversity fellowship, which had been open only to certain racial minorities, illegally excluded applicants based on race. The lawsuit was filed in August, in tandem with a similar lawsuit alleging that a diversity fellowship offered by law firm Perkins Coie also discriminated illegally on the basis of race. The alliance is led by conservative activist Edward Blum, whose lawsuits against Harvard University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill resulted in the Supreme Court overturning race-conscious admissions in higher education.

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Morrison Foerster’s fellowship had been open only to “a diverse population that has historically been underrepresented in the legal profession,” including Black, Latino, Native American and LGBTQ+ people. After the alliance lawsuit was filed, Morrison Foerster opened the fellowship to all first-year law school students.

“In essence, [Morrison Foerster] admits that its earlier program was illegal and has opened it up to all law students, regardless of their race and ethnicity,” Blum said in an emailed statement. “The members of the American Alliance for Equal Rights are satisfied that this illegal policy was changed to include everyone, regardless of race and ethnicity.”

Morrison Foerster said in a statement that the firm is “pleased by AAER’s decision not to pursue a meritless case, and look forward to welcoming another talented class of Wetmore Fellows to the firm this summer.”

“Being a leader in the effort to remove barriers and create opportunities in the legal profession has made us a target, but Morrison Foerster’s commitment is steadfast and unshakeable,” it added.

Also on Friday, Perkins Coie announced that it had revised the fellowship program that previously had been open only to students of color, those who identify as LGBTQ+ and students with disabilities. Now the fellowship is open to first- and second-year law students of all backgrounds, according to its website. The firm said that the changes were prompted by the Supreme Court’s June decision to roll back racial considerations in college admissions.

“Our new Diversity and Inclusion Fellowship Program continues Perkins Coie’s long-standing and deep-rooted commitment to advancing diversity, equity, and inclusion within our firm and across the legal profession,” said Genhi Givings Bailey, Perkins Coie’s chief diversity and inclusion officer.

Blum said Friday that, for now, his group will continue its litigation against Perkins Coie.

The lawsuits are part of a broad legal assault to dismantle private-sector DEI programs. Shortly after his win at the Supreme Court in June, Blum filed a lawsuit against the Fearless Fund, a private venture capital firm for women of color, alleging that its grant program for Black female business owners discriminated based on race. In September, a panel on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit temporarily blocked the fund from awarding its grants.

Gibson Dunn & Crutcher, a law firm representing the Fearless Fund in the case, has changed the eligibility requirements for its diversity scholarships, Bloomberg Law reported in September. Instead of being for “students who identify with an underrepresented group,” the scholarships are now for those who “have demonstrated resilience and excellence on their path toward a career in law.”

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