Three Women Sue Bank Of America-Merrill Lynch For Gender Discrimination

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Three women have filed suit against Bank Of America/Merrill Lynch, alleging a systemic pattern of discrimination. Alas, no big surprise there.


All three women worked as financial advisors at the company — two of them are in Florida, and one in New York — and are being represented by the same legal team behind a lawsuit of female financial advisors against Smith Barney, which was settled for $33 million in 2008. Their claims:

Bias on the basis of gender in account distributions; partnership opportunities; up front money, pay-out rate, and other benefits in its compensation plan; as well as in other opportunities for brokers to increase their income. The complaint charges that these violations are systemic, based upon company-wide policies and practices.

One of the women, Judy Calibuso, said she was retaliated against after she filed a discrimination complaint with the Equal Opportunity Commission in 2007. (She had previously met with her manager and asked for "fee-based" accounts, and was told by the manager that he preferred to distribute them to a male colleague.) All three are described to have complained internally and been retaliated against afterwards.

The women are seeking class action status for their claim. The complaint describes a pattern of "cumulative advantage," in which male financial advisors are given plum accounts first and then repeatedly rewarded for subsequent success. It blames "subjective decision making" of branch managers for the pattern. And it says it got worse after the Bank Of America-Merrill Lynch merger.

There is no giant outrage in the complaint; rather, these women complain of a thousand small slights that added up to their systemic disadvantage. Such are the building blocks upon which women's professional exclusion are built.

Three Women Sue BofA And Merrill Lynch Over Bias [AP]
Bank Of America Sex Discrimination Lawsuit [Official Site]


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Erin Gloria Ryan

I... uh.... am.... uh... kind of familiar with both of those companies. The way that the business is structured allows for individual financial advisors to pick younger FA's with whom to partner. It's an appealing framework because it allows more senior FA's to basically run their own business within the structure and regulation of the company, utilizing resources of those behomeths while building a business around a model that they see fit. It's bad news for young women in the industry, or young people of color, because the old crusty guys usually opt to partner with someone who reminds them of themselves. I've... uh... seen young women slighted by this system, seen really stupid dudes brought onto big teams while women with much more drive and promise are left to go it alone. Getting brought onto a team makes a huge difference in the career of a financial advisor at a company structured like BofA/ML.

A similar lawsuit about account distribution was filed against Ameriprise Financial a few years ago, and the plainiffs won. This set a precedent that most firms followed that dictates that when a financial advisor leaves the firm, he usually can't direct to whom his accounts are reassigned nor can he instruct his clients to request specific advisors; that's up to the manager. Big accounts are usually reassigned to big FA's who have more experience working with larger accounts to discourage money migration when an FA moves to another firm. Since big FA's are the ones who get big accounts, and big FA's usually tend to partner with young dudes, it's a systemic problem.

I will tell you one thing, though. If the system changes and FA's are given less autonomy, they will leave the firm in DROVES and move to smaller boutique investment houses instead that let them be dicks about not hiring the ladeez, and take their clients' money with them. This is not something that big financial companies want. They will fight this tooth and nail.