Court grants class action status to Merrill Lynch discrimination suit

Appeals court reverses earlier ruling, citing questionable companywide policies

Black financial advisers suing Merrill Lynch for alleged discrimination can pursue a class action suit after the 7th Circuit reversed a lower court’s ruling Friday.

George McReynolds, a Merrill employee for 28 years, brought the original lawsuit in 2005, alleging that the brokerage firm relegated black employees to lower-level positions and created a hostile working environment. Last year, U.S. District Judge Robert Gettleman ruled that there was not enough evidence to pursue the case. After last week’s reversal, however, up to 700 current and former brokers can join the suit.

Explaining the unanimous decision, Judge Richard Posner said the three-judge panel had “trouble seeing the downside of the limited class-action treatment that we think would be appropriate in this case.”

The court’s ruling comes just eight months after the U.S. Supreme Court threw out an epic class action discrimination suit against Wal-Mart.

In Dukes v. Wal-Mart Stores Inc., the Supreme Court ruled that 1.5 million female employees of the discount chain could not sue as a group because there were too many different complaints, many at a local level. Posner noted that, while individual managers also played a role in Merrill’s alleged discrimination, there were certain companywide policies that justified a class action suit in this case.

Read more at Reuters.

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