Merrill Lynch announced Monday that it has elected two new members to its board of directors, one of whom is a British human rights activist. The move, effective on Oct. 1, is likely geared toward alleviating some of the pressure from ongoing discrimination claims brought by women and African-Americans.
Virgis Colbert, 66, a retired vice president of worldwide operations for Miller Brewing Co., and Dame Judith Mayhew Jonas, 57, a barrister and member of the U.K. government Commission for Equality and Human Rights, were added to the board. Colbert will be on the nominating and corporate governance committee of the board, and Jonas joined the audit committee and the public policy and responsibility committee.
“Both Virgis Colbert and Dame Judith Mayhew Jonas bring extensive international experience across a number of disciplines to the Merrill Lynch board,” said Merrill Chairman and CEO Stan O’Neal, in a prepared statement. “Dame Judith is a respected leader in the legal, financial and cultural communities in London and is well known at Merrill Lynch as a former member of the company’s diversity and inclusion council. Virgis Colbert has many years of experience running operations in a diverse array of international markets at one of the leading consumer products businesses.”
O’Neal will be deposed on Nov. 1 in New York as part of the discovery phase in a race-discrimination lawsuit filed by one of the firm’s black brokers. The suit was initially filed in November 2005, when lead plaintiff George McReynolds, an advisor at the firm’s Nashville, Tenn., branch, claimed that Merrill engaged in systematic race discrimination and retaliation against African Americans, as well as unequal pay practices and opportunities.
The firm has also been dragged through the mud for its dealings with female brokers. Hydie Sumner, who worked as a broker in Merrill’s San Antonio branch from 1991 to 1997, won $2.2 million in a 2004 arbitration panel ruling that found the firm guilty of sexual discrimination. She spent seven years in and out of court testifying about the lewd and discriminatory behavior of management and colleagues at the San Antonio branch; yet, surprisingly, she also wanted to return to Merrill and the branch to finish her career. In 2005 she won that right with another arbitration panel ruling.
A Merrill spokesman declined to comment on any possible connection between the individuals elected to the board and the firm’s legal entanglements related to race and gender discrimination.