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Discrimination talks at an impasse

Amy Scott Jun 7, 2006

KAI RYSSDAL: Much like Washington, Wall Street has long been a man’s world. Female brokers and bankers have sued and won big gender discrimination cases. Now negotiatons have broken down between Merrill Lynch and dozens of African American financial advisers. The claim is systemic discrimination and retaliation. Marketplace’s Amy Scott has the latest.

AMY SCOTT: George McReynolds still works as a broker in Merrill Lynch’s Nashville, Tenn. office. But last fall he sued his employer, saying Merrill awarded accounts unfairly and failed to recruit African Americans to work there.

GEORGE MCREYNOLDS: I’ve been with the company going on 23 years now. And the company keeps saying that they want to make changes. But nothing ever happens. Which leads me to wonder who’s running the show.

Actually, an African American. Stanley O’Neal is the first and only black CEO of a major Wall Street firm. But the suit accuses Merrill Lynch of steering black candidates toward clerical jobs or denying them opportunities to advance. In a statement, Merrill Lynch confirmed that the two sides couldn’t agree on a financial settlement, but said that it made a fair offer. Pam Faber with the Securities Industry Association says Wall Street is making progress. Last year people of color made up 21 percent of the workforce ompared to 18 percent two years earlier.

PAM FABER: We would not by any means suggest that we are where we need to be. But I think the firms understand the value of having a diverse workforce, and they are committed to continuing the work in that area.

The brokers suing Merrill Lynch will head to court later this month. They hope to win the kind of settlement women employees earned in the late 1990s. Merrill Lynch agreed to pay more than $100 million to settle charges of sex discrimination.

In New York, I’m Amy Scott for Marketplace.

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