Court Throws Out Black Brokers' Suit against Merrill

March 31, 2011 ( – Bank of America won the dismissal of a bias lawsuit by black financial advisers at the former Merrill Lynch who claimed they received lesser retention bonuses than their white counterparts to stay on when the companies merged.

According to a Reuters news report, the decision by U.S. District Judge Robert Gettleman of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois is the latest setback for the brokers. The plaintiffs had first accused Merrill in a related case dating to 2005 of systematic discrimination in hiring, pay and promotions.

Reuters said Merrill had employed more than 15,000 brokers before Bank of America bought the company on January 1, 2009, creating the largest U.S. bank by assets.

The black brokers had complained that their bonuses were based on “production,” or fees earned on client assets. They said this caused them to be grossly underrepresented in top quintiles and overrepresented in bottom quintiles because of Merrill’s earlier discrimination, including its alleged steering of lucrative accounts to white brokers.

However, Gettleman said there was no showing that Charlotte-based Bank of America designed its bonus program with intent to discriminate, according to the Reuters news account. “Knowledge of past and even present discrimination alone does not make it plausible that defendants actually adopted the advisor transition program with discriminatory intent,” the judge wrote.

The case is McReynolds et al. vs. Merrill Lynch & Co. et al., U.S. District Court, Northern District of Illinois, No. 08-06105.