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Regulation and Compliance > Litigation

Merrill Faces Discrimination Suit by Black Ex-Reps

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What You Need to Know

  • This is not the first time that Merrill Lynch has been hit with a discrimination complaint.
  • Two ex-Merrill reps allege Black advisors at the firm have received less compensation and been promoted less often than their white counterparts.
  • Merrill disagrees with the allegations and cites its ongoing commitment to increase advisor diversity.

Merrill Lynch is facing another discrimination suit seeking class-action status by ex-reps at the firm, this time filed by two former Merrill brokers who allege African Americans employed at the firm as financial advisors have received less compensation and been promoted to senior roles less often than their white counterparts, while being terminated more often than white advisors.

In a complaint filed July 2 in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan, Lucinda Council and Ravynne Gilmore, who identified themselves as African American women, alleged the firm engaged in ”discriminatory policies, patterns, and/or practices, including …  minimum threshold production credit requirements, lack of support, and inequitable teaming opportunities.”

Council was dually registered as a broker and advisor at Merrill in Paramus, New Jersey, from about March 2018 to September 2019, according to the complaint and her report on the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority’s BrokerCheck website. She joined Equitable Advisors in Woodbridge, New Jersey, this year as a dually registered advisor and broker.

Gilmore was registered as a broker with Merrill from about October 2017 to January 2020 in Troy, Michigan and Warren, Michigan. She is no longer registered as a broker or advisor.

“Merrill has a longstanding commitment to increase the diversity of our financial advisors and provide support to help each advisor succeed,” Merrill spokesman William Halldin told ThinkAdvisor on Thursday. “We disagree with the claims that were brought” by the plaintiffs, he added.

Prior Discrimination Allegations

Merrill, Wells Fargo and Edward Jones are among the firms that have been hit with discrimination complaints before this.

In 2013, less than a week after Merrill settled a lawsuit with some 700 Black brokers for about $160 million, the wirehouse agreed to pay $39 million to resolve a lawsuit filed in Brooklyn, New York, involving about 4,800 female advisors who worked or had worked previously for the firm.

Merrill Lynch Wealth Management was pulling out all stops to add more women and people of color to its “thundering herd” of advisors to meet the firm’s goal of becoming the industry leader in diversity and inclusion, Andy Sieg, its president, told ThinkAdvisor in an interview in November.

Twenty-three percent of Merrill advisors were people of color, up 49% from 2015. But three years after the start of Sieg’s big push, the level of diversity was still falling short of that goal.

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