Bank of America Settlement: $39M for Gender Bias

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By Aditi Mukherji, JD on September 10, 2013 2:55 PM

A Bank of America settlement agreement for unlawful gender bias is going to cost the bank one pretty penny: $39 million, to be exact. The settlement brings to a close a class action lawsuit brought by women who worked as financial advisers in the bank's Merrill Lynch brokerage division.

The plaintiffs claimed Merrill Lynch, which was purchased by Bank of America in 2009, discriminated against women in compensation and business opportunities, reports Reuters.

Gender Bias

As set forth by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the law forbids sex discrimination when it comes to any aspect of employment, including hiring, firing, pay, job assignments, promotions, layoff, training, fringe benefits, and any other term or condition of employment.

Here, the lawsuit alleged that women were less likely to be assigned lucrative, career-making clients and to receive promotions, and that those who submitted discrimination complaints were retaliated against, reports Reuters.

While remedies for discrimination can vary, in this case, 4,800 Merrill Lynch employees are receiving the staggering settlement amount as repayment for being discriminated with respect to business opportunities, compensation, professional support, and other terms and conditions of employment.

Discrimination suits also aim to prevent future discriminatory actions. As part of the settlement agreement, Bank of America must retain an independent monitor and a consultant to oversee improvements in its policies and practices.

The remedy is a fitting one, as Bank of America's Merrill Lynch division is struggling with unlawful discrimination. In the realm of race discrimination, the company just recently announced a $160 million proposed settlement between Merrill Lynch and 1,200 black financial advisers, according to Reuters.

The Utility of Gender Bias Settlements

The financial industry is rampant with gender bias, and several major brokerages have found themselves in the middle of pricey lawsuits, according to Reuters.

In the last few years, Morgan Stanley, Citigroup Inc., and Wells Fargo have all been embroiled in multi-million dollar settlements, with Morgan Stanley topping the list with a whopping $46 million settlement.

But some critics are skeptical about how much meaningful change such settlements actually effect.

From urging female employees to read "Seducing the Boys' Club: Uncensored Tactics From a Woman at the Top" to creating female-centric events like "dressing for success" and "preparing healthy meals while working full-time," it's particularly troubling that Bank of America did not even admit wrongdoing in agreeing to the settlement, Slate points out.

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