Ex-Merrill Brokers Bring Discrimination Suit That Echoes Already Settled Claims
Two former Merrill Lynch financial advisors, who are African-American, filed a proposed class action race bias lawsuit against the wirehouse that echoes claims made more than a decade ago in a $160 million settlement.
Lucinda J. Council and Ravynne Gilmore, who both worked for Merrill less than three years, brought their claim on July 2 in the U.S. District Court for Eastern Michigan alleging that African-American advisors received less compensation and were promoted less frequently due to Merrill’s “discriminatory policies, patterns, and/or practices.” The case cites Merrill’s “minimum threshold production credit requirements, lack of support, and inequitable teaming opportunities.”
Merrill also terminates African-American advisors at higher rates than their white counterparts while fewer are elevated to senior financial advisor and private wealth management roles according to the complaint, which did not include statistics or anecdotes regarding the allegations.
“The violations of African American employees’ rights are systemic, are based
upon company-wide policies and practices, and are the result of unchecked race-based bias that pervades Defendants’ corporate culture,” the plaintiffs alleged in the suit.
A Merrill Lynch spokesperson denied the allegations.
“Merrill has a long-standing commitment to increase the diversity of our financial advisors, and provide support to help each advisor succeed,” the spokesperson said in a statement.
Merrill and other major brokerage firms have been frequent targets of race and gender bias claims.
The allegations in the July 2 complaint mirror those made more than a decade ago in a high-profile class action case led by named plaintiff George McReynolds that settled in 2013 for $160 million.
As part of that settlement, Merrill established a number of policies to help Black advisors advance, including changing its account distribution and teaming practices. Merrill also earlier this year revised its training program with an eye on improving graduation rates for diverse candidates.
Last year, Merrill began disclosing diversity metrics for its broker roster. It said 21% of its roughly 17,500 brokers and branch-based advisors were women and almost 14% were Black or Latino.
Linda Friedman, a well-known plaintiff lawyer who represented McReynolds (who retired from Merrill in 2019) and the other Black Merrill advisors and is not involved in the new lawsuit, characterized the latest litigation as “a copycat lawsuit” that didn’t raise any substantial new issues.
Friedman acknowledged more progress is needed because “there was intentional discrimination,” and “wage disparities persist.” Still, she said she felt the original plaintiffs in the McReynolds case and Merrill executives were making inroads..
Council and Gilmore are represented by a team of lawyers from Outten & Golden, which has represented clients in prior proposed class actions against the wirehouse.
Chauniqua Young, an Outten & Golden lawyer on the litigation team representing Council and Gilmore, declined to comment on the complaint or Friedman’s comments.
Gilmore, who did not return a call to her office or respond to a request for comment made through on social media, worked at Merrill in Warren, Michigan from February 2018 to February 2020, according to her BrokerCheck record. She is no longer registered, and her LinkedIn profile identifies her as legislative director for the Michigan House of Representatives since February 2020.
Council, who did not respond to a request for comment made through social media, worked at Merrill in Paramus, New Jersey, from March 2018 to September 2019, and is now registered with Equitable Advisors in Woodbridge, New Jersey, according to BrokerCheck. No one answered the phone at her Equitable office.
Prior to starting at Merrill, Council had worked at PNC Investments in Westwood, New Jersey for nine years, and briefly for Morgan Stanley in Ridgewood, New Jersey for less than one year, according to BrokerCheck.