A protracted legal action against Merrill Lynch may finally be seeing the end — or at least the beginning of its end — in the next few months. Arbitration hearings stemming from the large class-action lawsuit filed against Merrill in 1998 for gender discrimination started in late November and are expected to continue throughout the winter in various locations around the country.
At this point the majority of the 900 claimants have settled, in one way or another, with Merrill Lynch. The claims now going to arbitration started with the public-viewing last month of testimony by expert witnesses called by both sides to determine whether gender discrimination indeed occurred at the firm for the years in question, which included the middle part of the 1990s.
Among those submitting to arbitration are former Merrill brokers Nancy Thomas, represented by Liddle & Robinson of New York (whose case is scheduled to begin Dec. 16 in New York), and Hydie Sumner (whose trial was expected to begin in November in San Antonio).
The first testimony displayed was that of professor Jerry Goldman, who, through his statistical analysis, said that discrimination did indeed take place at Merrill. His stats showed that women were under-represented in the top quintile of brokers at the firm — when all probability showed they should have been more or less equally distributed throughout quintiles, as men were. The rate at which this occurred was too high to be considered chance, Goldman said in his report.
Meanwhile, eleven former members of the class who settled have filed suit against Merrill again. They also are suing the firm that originally represented them, Stowell & Friedman of Chicago. This case was dismissed in a lower court — and has been re-filed in the 7th District Court of Appeals. The attorney for these eleven, Robert Plotkin of Chicago, charges Stowell & Friedman with conflicted representation, excessive fees and potential collusion with Merrill, alleging that Merrill may have paid $20 million to $65 million in fees to Stowell & Friedman.