Merrill Lynch settles $160m race discrimination suit
Eight years after legal action was launched, US bank agrees to pay record settlement to black employees
MERRILL LYNCH'S decision to pay $160m to settle a long-running race discrimination lawsuit could affect as many as 1,200 of its US employees.
The legal action, which was filed by George McReynolds in 2005, alleged that African-American workers at the bank were encouraged to pursue clerical positions rather than become brokers. According to the New York Times, McReynolds also contended that those who did become brokers received little help from their managers and were often ostracised by co-workers.
The payout is one of the largest ever distributed among a group of complainants in a discrimination suit, topping the $156m paid by Coca-Cola to black employees in 2000 and dwarfing the $16m payout made in 2008 by Morgan Stanley to black and Hispanic brokers.
The lawsuit has taken eight years to reach a settlement, nearly twice as long as most class actions. It included two appeals to the Supreme Court. At the time it was launched, only two per cent of Merrill Lynch's employees were African-American, despite an agreement to raise representation to 6.5 per cent.
McReynolds filed the suit on behalf of the bank's 700 black workers. Now the preliminary deal has been reached, the payout may eventually be shared among as many as 1,200 current and former employees.
McReynolds, who still works for the bank, hopes to take part in the leadership council that Merrill Lynch has agreed to create to advise the firm on creating a more equal working environment.
"It's been a long journey," he said. "I never gave up. As long as it was alive, I thought we had a chance."
Suzanne Bish, one of McReynold's lawyers, told the BBC the significance of the settlement happening on the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr's "I have a dream" speech had not been lost on her clients. "They wouldn't be brokers on Wall Street without the efforts of people who struggled before them and they're excited to continue the struggle," she said. ·