Could there be a less fortunate day on which to announce the settlement of the largest racial discrimination suit ever filed against an American employer?
That’s a no. The 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s March on Washington brings news (technically released last night) that big boy Wall Street brokerage firm Merrill Lynch finally settled the class action suit filed by more than 700 black brokers approximately eight years ago. The total of $160 million, to be divided among affected individuals who’ve worked with the company since 2001, stands as a confirmation of allegations that managers ignored the concerned parties, who were “ostracized by co-workers” and essentially forced into “poor producer” status.
Lynch’s first black CEO, E. Stanley O’Neal, even admitted that black employees rarely got the best work. Why? Because most clients were white and “might not trust” brokers who weren’t.
Wow. That’s what we call “a cultural issue”, not to mention a massive PR problem.
The fact that the settlement comes after not one but two appeals to the United States Supreme Court only makes Lynch, now owned by Bank of America, look worse. Oh, and the firm settled gender discrimination suits in both the 70’s and the 90’s. Not that any of those Wall Street frat house stereotypes you learned in college are true.
As part of the deal, the company will have to create a council to offer guidance on improving hiring and training practices for black employees. Merrill Lynch’s spokesman said:
We are working toward a very positive resolution of a lawsuit filed in 2005 and enhancing opportunities for African-American financial advisers.
That’s probably not going to cut it. And why would anyone want to work for Merrill Lynch, again? Oh, right: the money.