BAML to Settle Landmark Racial Discrimination Suit

Eddie Braverman's picture
Rank: The Pro | 21,095

It is being reported that Bank of America is settling the largest racial discrimination suit against an American company in history of behalf of its Merrill Lynch unit. The settlement amount is said to be $160 million paid out to a class of 700 plaintiffs made up of former Merrill employees. The basis of the suit is that Merrill Lynch steered African-American employees away from client facing roles and diverted the highest paying accounts to white brokers. The settlement must now be approved by a judge.

Racial discrimination is one of the most unfortunate aspects of our business, and Merrill Lynch is by no means the only offender. And it's not just banks and brokerages, either. The media is just as guilty.

I remember the day Joe Jett blew up. There was a veritable media circus outside his apartment that morning waiting to pounce on him the minute he emerged. He left his apartment, waded through the sea of reporters, and hailed a cab and went to work wondering what all the fuss was about. The camera crews and reporters took no notice of him because it never occurred to any of them that the rogue trader who tanked Kidder, Peabody might be black.

Likewise, I wasn't two weeks into my first training program when I was told in no uncertain terms that we don't do business with women or blacks. Women, because they required too much hand holding and couldn't come to a decision quickly, and blacks, because they don't pay for their stock. I remember being pretty shocked by how cut and dried it was, having just come from the Marine Corps which, for all its faults, is largely a color blind organization.

The rare black employees had it no better, really. I can remember only two black brokers in my first office of 80+ guys. One had been there awhile and was just scraping by, and the other was actually in my training class with me and happened to be gay. He was a really great guy but was clearly in the wrong place, because he just didn't have a predatory bone in his body. He quit after a couple months and I found out he was later the victim of a hate crime, which is neither here nor there as far as the business is concerned, it just speaks to what a generally shitty world we live in.

It's unfortunate, but I have no difficulty believing these allegations. I sincerely hope (and I do believe) that things have improved for minorities over the past 20 years in our business. I won't pretend there isn't still racial discrimination, but I believe it isn't nearly as pronounced or overt as it once was, and I commend BAML for stepping up to right a wrong.

Equality is the linchpin of a meritocracy, and it boggles my mind that many of those who claim to want to be judged on their merits willingly look the other way in cases of obvious discrimination (not just racial discrimination, btw).

I'm certainly not blameless in this regard (evidenced by the fact that I chose to continue working in a place with such attitudes), but at least I've always wanted to know I was the best because I competed against the best, regardless of what color they were or where they came from.

Here's hoping this sort of ugliness is nearing its end on Wall Street.