Wall Street’s top investment banking firms offer career-advancing opportunities to college students, with one catch — applicants are expected to be of certain races and gender identities.
The programs, run by companies that include Morgan Stanley, JPMorgan Chase and Bank of America, aim to increase diversity, prioritizing students based on race and gender. They also potentially run afoul of federal civil rights laws, legal experts told the the Daily Caller News Foundation.
“Those programs are likely illegal violations of federal civil rights laws including Title VI, Title VII, Title IX, and Section 1981 of the Civil Rights Act of 1866, and they are ripe for a legal challenge of their blatant discrimination based on race, color, national origin, sex, gender identity or sexual orientation,” University of Michigan-Flint professor emeritus Mark Perry, who has filed hundreds of civil rights complaints against colleges, told the Daily Caller News Foundation. (RELATED: Law Firm Changes Race-Based Criteria For Fellowship After Lawsuit)
Bank of America, for example, awards its MBA Diversity Fellowships, which it notes are “merit-based,” to those “who are Black/African American, Hispanic/Latino, Native American, military veterans, LGBT+, students with disabilities and women in their first year of business school.”
“While our goal is to target underrepresented groups, all eligible students regardless of background are encouraged to apply,” its website says.
“As noted in the posting, the program is open to all eligible students regardless of background,” Bank of America spokesperson William Halldin told the DCNF.
Similarly, JPMorgan Chase offers an “Advancing Black Pathways Fellowship Program,” though it too welcomes all backgrounds to apply.
“The ABP Fellowship Program is seeking sophomore students, including, without limitation, Black students, who are interested in exploring career opportunities at JPMorgan Chase,” the website advertises.
George Mason University School of Law professor David Bernstein told the DCNF that both the Bank of America and JPMorgan programs are employment or contractual agreements that are “clearly covered and illegal” under civil rights laws.
Merely stating that other racial groups are eligible to apply may not be enough to guarantee legal protection, Heritage Foundation senior legal fellow GianCarlo Canaparo added.
“[T]hat’s not enough to save them if, in fact, they give racial preferences,” Canaparo told the DCNF.
“Major law firms are being sued right now for their programs,” he continued. “Expect to see the big banks on the chopping block next.”
Likewise, to further its “diversity recruiting efforts,” Morgan Stanley offers its “Richard B. Fisher Scholarship Program” program to college sophomores and juniors in conjunction with its Summer Analyst Program. Applicants must be part of a group that is “historically underrepresented in the financial services industry.”
Morgan Stanley also offers two-day “Early Insights” programs in its New York City, Baltimore and Alpharetta offices for undergraduates from “historically underrepresented populations in the financial services industry.” These include “women, Hispanic, Black, veteran, disabled, LGBTQ+, and first-generation college student populations,” according to its website.
Those selected to participate in Early Insights are granted an opportunity to interview for a summer analyst position, according to Morgan Stanley’s website.
“Employment decisions at Morgan Stanley are based on merit and do not discriminate against any individual on the basis of their race, gender or other protected status,” the bank’s website notes, despite eligibility requirements for the program specifying students be part of an underrepresented group.
America First Legal (AFL) already asked the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) to investigate Morgan Stanley in 2022 for a training program called the “Freshman Enhancement Program,” which AFL Vice President and General Counsel Gene Hamilton told the DCNF “notably excludes Whites, Asians, heterosexuals, and all others.”
Goldman Sachs is hosting a November “diversity symposium” for MBA students who are interested in becoming a 2024 Summer Associate to provide them with a closer look at the company, as well as networking opportunities, as they prepare for the application process. However, Goldman Sachs restricts the program to individuals “that identify as Black, Hispanic/Latinx, Native American, or women.”
A Goldman Sachs spokesperson told the DCNF the company regularly hosts “a variety of information sessions to increase awareness of opportunities at the firm for all students both on and off campus.”
“Whether these programs violate state and federal civil rights law turns on whether they are employment opportunities—as opposed to mere outreach efforts,” Canaparo told the DCNF.
While Goldman Sachs’ symposium seems to be “outreach only,” the Morgan Stanley program guarantees a job interview to attendees, Canaparo noted.
“That may be enough to bring it within the reach of civil rights laws,” Canaparo said.
Bernstein said Goldman Sachs’ program could potentially be used “as evidence of intent to discriminate” in legal action brought by a white individual. Otherwise, he said “a regulatory body would have to go after this,” given that there is no contract or employment decision involved.
Corporate diversity practices have increasingly been the subject of lawsuits by conservative legal groups. In August, an Atlanta-based investment manager, Fearless Fund, was sued over its grant program for black women. The lawsuit was funded by a nonprofit founded by Edward Blum, the activist behind the Students for Fair Admissions cases that led to the Supreme Court overturning affirmative action.
Separately, a law firm recently removed references to race and sexual orientation in the criteria for its diversity fellowship after it was hit with a lawsuit by Blum’s organization, the American Alliance for Equal Rights.
Morgan Stanley and JPMorgan did not respond to requests for comment.
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