Human Resources News & Insights

$39 million later: Merrill Lynch on wrong end of another bias settlement

Less than two weeks after settling the most expensive race bias case ever, Merrill Lynch is again paying big for a multi-million dollar discrimination settlement.  

The latest price tag: $39 million. That’s what Bank of America will fork over to settle a gender bias lawsuit in its Merrill Lynch brokerage division.

The women involved claimed the banking firm favored male financial offers for compensation, business opportunities, professional support and more. That meant, according to the complaint, that women were less likely to land big clients or be promoted.

The money will be divided among 4,800 women who worked for Bank of America between 2007 and 2013.

In addition to the $39 million settlement, Merrill Lynch agreed to change its policies to give women a better chance of succeeding with the company. That includes hiring an applied organizational psychologist to analyze company policies such as how broker teams are formed.

What’s going on?

If this all sounds familiar, it should: Less than two weeks ago, Merrill Lynch agreed to settle race bias lawsuit with 1,200 black investment advisors for $160 million — the largest race bias settlement ever.

According to The New York Times, the new settlement means that Merrill Lynch will have paid out nearly half of a billion dollars to settle employee discrimination cases in the last 15 years.

That includes a similar gender bias lawsuit filed in 1998 by 900 female employees of Merrill Lynch which was settled for $250 million.

Reasonable people might ask: How does this keep happening to the same firm?

Katy Waldman of Slate points toward Erin Gloria Ryan’s analysis on Jezebel for a possible explanation:

… firms like Bank of America court senior financial advisors by giving them lots of freedom, including the freedom to choose their junior partners without much oversight. In the absence of standardized selection criteria, older white men tend to put together teams of younger white men (birds of a feather, etc). Meanwhile, up-and-comers who don’t look like younger versions of their superiors are denied the same opportunities to jumpstart their careers. These behaviors are not obvious or even necessarily intentional, but that makes the pattern of discrimination they create no less real. At least, thanks to recent lawsuits, they’re also growing ever more costly.

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