Less than a quarter of women accept firm's settlement offers. Almost 80% of the women offered cash settlements by Merrill Lynch as part of the firm's class-action sex discrimination suit have rejected them.
The case covers both present and past female employees, and was settled in September 1998. Of the 911 women who filed claims under terms of the deal, Merrill made award proposals to around 720. Only 165 of those women have accepted.
This past January, settlements of between $20,000 to $40,000 were offered to 240 women with less than two years of service at the firm. About 90 of those accepted.
A second round of offers this past March went to 480 women with two-plus years at Merrill. Those offers ranged from $20,000 to the "lower six figures," says Mary Stowell, one of the plaintiffs' attorneys from the Chicago-based law firm of Stowell & Friedman. Only 75 women out of this second group accepted.
"Most of the offers were too modest," Stowell says. The second group had "more time vested with the firm. They felt a greater degree of injury ... and they want to be compensated."
The next step for the 555 women who have rejected settlement offers is mediation. Claimants must go through a one-day, closed-door session. The sessions were scheduled to begin sometime after Labor Day.
If a claimant and the firm are unable to reach an agreement in mediation, the case will go to a binding arbitration hearing.
The remaining 191 women have not received settlement offers. "Merrill did not feel offers were appropriate in those cases," says Merrill spokesperson Bill Halldin.
In a related issue, Stowell says Merrill has complied with the settlement's requirement to establish an account-distribution policy (see February 2000 RR, Page 28). Women brokers had complained that they did not get their fair share of accounts.
"Their policy was actually rewritten," Stowell says. "We're pleased with the policy they have in place now."