Merrill Lynch on Wednesday settled a class-action discrimination lawsuit with roughly 1,200 African-American financial advisers. The suit had lingered for eight years.
The $160 million settlement, if approved by a U.S. district judge in Chicago, would be one of the largest payouts ever made in a discrimination case, according to The Associated Press
"Working in a fair environment, I would have made more money than this settlement is going to make me," Maroc "Rocky" Howard, 55, one of the first plaintiffs in the case, told the AP. "But it is a positive thing."
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Merrill Lynch, which is owned by Bank of America, is one of the world's largest brokerages with more than 15,000 financial advisers.
In a statement, the firm said, "We're not at this point commenting on the existence of the settlement or the status of a settlement."
George McReynolds, 68, the lead plaintiff in the case, still works in the firm's Nashville office. McReynolds had been with the company for nearly 20 years when he first filed the lawsuit in 2005, according to The Tennessean
"He and his wife are really amazing people who acknowledge that they are where they are because there was a struggle before them, and (they) think it’s incumbent upon them to make things better for the next generation," Suzanne Bish, a partner with Chicago-based law firm Stowell & Friedman Ltd., told The Tennessean.
Stowell & Friedman represented McReynolds and several other plaintiffs in the lawsuit.
The Tennessean wrote that in McReynolds' original lawsuit, he described Merrill Lynch's company culture as being "toxic" for African-Americans. The newspaper said McReynolds was one of only two African-American brokers in Tennessee when he was hired in 1983 and the Nashville branch didn’t hire a second one until 1987.
The Associated Press said the lawsuit claimed that Merrill Lynch steered black brokers away from the most lucrative business, meaning that African-Americans would eventually make less under the company's compensation system. The suit stated that in 2006, blacks were making 43 percent less in compensation than white brokers.
Merrill Lynch denied the discrimination allegation and defended its compensation programs.
"All (financial advisers), regardless of race, are judged by the same metric," stated one of Merrill Lynch's filings, wrote The Associated Press. "The rule is simple: produce more, earn more."
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