End of Settlement Talks Bring Students to Protest Against Merrill Lynch

Students protested in front of several Chicago-based Merrill Lynch offices one day after settlement talks between African-American reps who claim they were discriminated against and Merrill Lynch came to an end.

African-American college students protested in front of several Chicago-based Merrill Lynch offices one day after settlement talks between African-American reps who claim they were discriminated against and Merrill Lynch came to an end.

The students began their March at about 11:30 this morning and continued until late this afternoon. Michael O’Looney, a Merrill Lynch spokesperson said in statement, “We do not know who the protesters were but they were not our employees. We are trying to take a constructive approach and had hoped to reach a resolution that made sense for all involved, including our shareholders.”

The protests come after six months of discussion between Merrill Lynch and a group of African-American advisors about how to end alleged system racism at the firm came to an end.

Linda Friedman, Chicago-based lawyer representing the brokers, says the plaintiffs’ decision to terminate further discussion came after both sides failed to agree on a monetary settlement and Merrill Lynch’s decision to develop an Office of Diversity without external oversight, as advocated by the African-American reps.

In a statement, Robert McCann, president of Merrill’s global private client, said he was disappointed in the stalemate. “We offered a financial settlement that we believe was both fair and appropriate.”

Friedman says a meeting on Thursday to discuss monetary compensation for the reps set off the decision to end negotiations. “After the meeting, it was clear that Merrill Lynch did not comprehend that economical harm that [the discrimination] caused the advisors,” she says. The breakdown may come as a surprise since even Merrill’s CEO, Stan O’Neal, got involved personally in negotiations in March. The end of negotiations means Friedman’s law firm will be taking the case to court. On June 21, both sides will update a judge on the status of negotiations and will receive a schedule for litigation procedures.

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