Workplace Race Discrimination Continues to be a Problem

One would have dreamed that 50 years after Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. made his now-famous speech in D.C. that we would be a nation beyond racism in the workplace and beyond. pedroperez

Sadly, our Costa Mesa race discrimination lawyers now that is simply not the case, as a series of recent court cases so clearly illustrate.

One of those involves financial advising giant Merrill Lynch, which is gearing up to pay out the third-largest racial discrimination settlement ever on record: $160 million. The settlement amount was negotiated after some 1,000 black investment brokers and trainers, employed at the company from 2001 to the present time, alleged that supervisors routinely steered more profitable business to white workers.

The effect was clear when, in 2006, white workers whose salary was based on commission pay earned an average of 43 percent more than their black counterparts.

This is not the first time Merill Lynch has been accused of such bias. In fact, the firm’s discriminatory practices date back decades. In the mid-1970s, the was sued and ultimately settled a race discrimination claim, for which it ultimately agreed to adopt policies that would ultimately help to establish a more diverse workforce. Insiders say that never happened.

Then in 1998, the firm settled a gender discrimination lawsuit brought by nearly 1,000 female workers. Another gender discrimination claim was brought against the firm earlier this year when a company training course recommended female workers read a book that promoted the use of sexual favors to reach higher ranking positions.

It’s worth noting that minorities (and women too) tend to be vastly underrepresented in the financial industry. The 2010 Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform Law included mandates to promote diversity, but implementation of these measures has thus far been snail-paced.

Merill Lynch is set for dissolution by its parent company, Bank of America, which acquired the firm in 2009 for $33 billion. The brand name will likely still be used for the bank’s investment bank and retail brokerage services, though it will cease to exist as a separate entity. At one point, the firm had about 14,000 financial advisors.

But it’s not just too-big-to-fail firms that are getting caught up in allegations of racial discrimination. A small non-profit firm out of New York was recently ordered to pay $280,000 for creating a hostile work environment for a black worker. Interestingly, the owner/operator at the center of the allegations is black himself.

According to various media reports, the federal jury trial centered on statements that the owner/operator frequently used that included the “n-word.”  The non-profit firm was geared toward minorities and focused on providing services to help boost employment, involved fatherhood and youth programming for these under-served populations.

One of the rants in question was secretly recorded by the employee. In that recording, the boss reportedly referred to the employee as the “n-word” eight different times over the course of a few minutes. In the recording, he calls the worker “very bright” but then proceeds to tear her down with use of the word. On the stand, the 61-year-old founder said he came from a different time.

The case was interesting for the fact that while the “n-word” has been deemed unquestionably inappropriate for use by white employers, jurors here clearly ruled that it is inappropriate in the workplace period – regardless of the speaker’s identity.


Costa Mesa race discrimination lawsuits can be filed with the help of the Nassiri Law Group, practicing in Orange County, Riverside and Los Angeles. Call 949.375.4734.

Additional Resources:

Merill Lynch $160 Million Race-Bias Accord Goes to Judge, Sept. 3, 2013, By Andrew Harris, Bloomberg

More Blog Entries:

Race Discrimination at California Target Stores Alleged, July 13, 2013, Costa Mesa Race Discrimination Lawyer Blog

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