The investment banking and brokerage industry, historically a white male bastion, has been subject to numerous prominent employment discrimination suits over the years. Now the industry may be facing a new wave of litigation by women and people of color who continue to face disparate treatment even as the Wall Street work force gradually diversifies.
Two class action suits:one on behalf of African-American brokers, the other on behalf of female brokers:have been filed against Bank of America, alleging that the financial giant systematially offered smaller retention bonuses to women and African-Americans formerly employed by Merrill Lynch, which BoA acquired last year in the wake of the financial crisis. The plaintiffs contend that Merrill favored white male brokers with more lucrative work. Since broker pay and retention bonuses are performance-based (though events in the past year raise serious doubts about the meaning of”performance”on Wall Street), women and African-Americans received less than their white male colleagues.
Bank of America disputes the plaintiffs’ allegations, touting its”strong track record of hiring and developing associates”and”success in creating and supporting a diverse and inclusive workforce”. However, the brokerage industry’s track record in the area of equal employment has been clouded by several major suits over hiring and pay disparities, rampant sexual harassment, and other discriminatory practices. Among those cases was a suit against Merrill Lynch by female brokers alleging discriminatory treatment, which settled in 1999 for $100 million.