The Power of Class Action Lawsuits: Merrill Lynch’s $20 Million Settlement on Racial Discrimination

Class action lawsuits allow the average employee to band together and get justice from large powerful corporations.

Class action lawsuits are often seen as the vehicle of justice for the average person, allowing individuals to band together to hold even the most formidable, seemingly untouchable companies to account for their actions. A recent case involving Merrill Lynch, a Wall Street brokerage titan, has brought this to light, with the company agreeing to pay nearly $20 million to settle a class-action lawsuit alleging racial discrimination against its Black financial advisers.

This lawsuit claims that African American advisers employed by Bank of America-owned Merrill received less compensation and fewer promotions than their white counterparts. Furthermore, these employees were terminated at higher rates with fewer opportunities for advancement due to discriminatory practices entrenched in the company’s culture.

The repercussions of such systemic violations of African-American employees’ rights had to be addressed. The suit filed in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida by four former Merrill advisers has set a precedent that even the biggest corporations can be held accountable for racial discrimination in the workplace.

Merrill has agreed to pay $19.95 million — beyond attorney fees and administration costs—to compensate those affected. The settlement is set to benefit approximately 1,375 eligible class members. A judge is yet to approve this settlement, but Merrill has also agreed to “programmatic relief” that includes reviews of diversity practices and pay equity analyses.

Bank of America has stated that the settlement allows them to focus on supporting Black financial advisers and their clients. Over the past decade, they have implemented policies and programs to improve diversity and inclusion. This initiative has resulted in an over 40% increase in the number of Black financial advisers at Merrill and a significant upturn in team representation.

The case against Merrill Lynch is not an isolated incident. They have faced similar allegations in the past, resulting in a $160 million settlement in August 2013. These cases underscore the power of class action lawsuits in ensuring even the most powerful entities are held accountable for their actions.

In the fight against race discrimination, class action lawsuits prove time and again that no company is too large or too powerful to be immune from legal recourse. This not only brings justice for those wronged but also forces companies to examine and modify their practices to ensure a more inclusive and equitable workplace.