Investment company Merrill Lynch has agreed to settle a long-brewing racial discrimination lawsuit for a record $160 million, according to news reports. As of this writing, Merrill Lynch had not yet confirmed the settlement. If it goes forward, it would represent the largest settlement ever paid in a racially-based employment discrimination lawsuit against a U.S. employer.
The lawsuit was filed on behalf of more than a thousand black people who worked as brokers for the investment banker, and has been working its way through the federal courts for eight years. According to a lawyer for the plaintiffs, the case began as one broker's efforts to correct what he saw as discrimination that was holding him back from the same business opportunities presented to his white colleagues. He eventually filed suit, and his suit was joined by hundreds of others who said they had experienced similar discrimination at Merrill Lynch. The company is now owned by Bank of America.
It can be difficult to prove racial discrimination in the workplace because this kind of discrimination often goes hidden or undetected. For example, some job applicants may not be hired but have no solid proof that they were rejected because of their race. In other cases, employers institute policies that, unintentionally, discriminate against workers of one race and not others. For example, an employer may require job applicants to take a test, not realizing that the test questions tend to skew the results against people who grew up in minority communities.
Because the causes and effects of racial discrimination in the workplace can be so subtle, these cases can be technically challenging. Minnesota workers who believe that they have been discriminated against in the workplace because of their race should get help understanding how the laws apply to their unique set of circumstances.
Source: The New York Times, "A record payout in bias case," William Alden, Aug. 28, 2013