Discimination Lawsuit Results In Win For Plainttif Merrill Lynch Broker: Timothy Coffey, Chicago Employment Lawyer
Chicago, IL (Law Firm Newswire) March 5, 2014 - African American brokers at Merrill Lynch recently celebrated the $160 million settlement of a class-action racial discrimination lawsuit.
“Merrill Lynch is known as one of the largest brokerage firms on Wall Street, so this win was significant for the plaintiffs involved,” points out Timothy Coffey, a Chicago employment lawyer and principal attorney for The Coffey Law Office, P. C., an employment litigation firm dedicated to representing employees in the workplace. The settlement came at the end of a long legal process that began in 2005 for the 12 plaintiffs.
Initially, there was only one plaintiff in the case alleging that Merrill Lynch fostered a hostile culture that gave a silent nod to discrimination in pay, advancement within the firm and in hiring. Part of the statement of claim alleged that African Americans were not treated fairly when other brokers left the firm and their existing clientele were given to other advisors at the company. Over time, the original plaintiff was able to convince 16 other African American brokers to join forces in filing the lawsuit.
“The complaint was amended and revealed, amongst other things, that Merrill Lynch only employed black brokers in 25 of 50 states and that 70 percent of those brokers were ranked in the bottom of the company in relation to benefits and pay. Today, there are less than 2 percent of 14,000 brokers who are African American,” Coffey explains. The plaintiffs further alleged that they were extremely isolated in the workplace and felt like they were waging a war behind enemy lines.
Merrill Lynch denied all allegations, but nonetheless chose to settle the lawsuit out-of-court; a settlement that did not include any admission of liability. Such settlements are usually a tacit, but not acknowledged verbally, admission that their defense may not be as sound as they think.
This case was unusual in that it took into consideration the 2011 U.S. Supreme Court decision in a sexual discrimination case against Wal-Mart. In that judgment, the court found that if local store managers were exercising their discretion in promotion and hiring rather than formulating a corporate policy, a class action was not proper. However, in the Merrill Lynch case, there were two office policies common to the class of African American brokers that may be prejudicial in nature – letting brokers in the same office form teams and the national account distribution system – because they favored those that were already successful.
The plaintiff’s attorney was encouraged to take the case to the 7th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals. The appellate panel unanimously sided with all plaintiffs in late 2013, with Merrill Lynch indicating it would appeal to the Supreme Court. The court refused to hear the case and Merrill Lynch began settlement negotiations.
“Even though cases such as this make take a long time to be resolved, they may well be worth pursuing given the nature of the rights involved for those filing the lawsuit. Always seek employment counsel about issues such as this,” Coffey urged.
THE COFFEY LAW OFFICE, P.C.
351 W. Hubbard Street, Suite 602
Chicago, IL 60654
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