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Bank of America reaches gender discrimination settlement

No matter what the industry, it is not always easy to get ahead. When a company has a long history of racial or gender discrimination, it can only make matters more difficult.

Recently, Bank of America reached an agreement with plaintiffs in a gender discrimination suit. The bank agreed to pay the plaintiffs $39 million. The original plaintiff worked in Bank of America's brokerage division, but the suit was expanded to include women employed by Merrill Lynch after it was purchased by the bank. The $39 million settlement will be split among approximately 4,800 former and current employees of Bank of America and Merrill Lynch.

As part of the settlement, Merrill Lynch has also agreed to revisit and adjust some of its policies to provide women with more opportunities for advancement. Of particular concern is the ways in which the firm forms teams of brokers and makes decisions about how these teams share customer accounts. For its part, Merrill Lynch has said that it is fully behind efforts to increase diversity at the firm and is committed to helping women succeed in their careers as financial advisors.

That said, Merrill Lynch has a long history of involvement in gender and racial discrimination cases. In the 1970s, the firm settled a series of discrimination lawsuits and promised to make its workforce more inclusive and diverse. Nevertheless, earlier this summer, the firm agreed to pay a $160 million racial discrimination settlement to 700 current and former black stockbrokers. The case had been before a court in Chicago for nearly eight years. Over the last 15 years, Merrill Lynch has paid out nearly $500 million to settle discrimination claims brought by current and former employees.

Of course, it is not entirely fair to focus solely on Merrill Lynch. The reality is that racial and gender disparity has continued to exist in many banks and brokerage firms as employers have been slow to adapt to changing trends. With Merrill Lynch paying sizable settlements to plaintiffs in recent years, some are hopeful that the banking industry will make note and take steps toward real change. Given Merrill Lynch's record, however, as well as that of other banks, some are skeptical that the industry has learned its lesson once and for all.

It is illegal for an employer to discriminate against an employee solely on the basis of his or her gender or race. Fortunately, those workers who are the subject of these sorts of discrimination have rights. To learn more, speak to an experienced employment law attorney.

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