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Merrill Defeats Bid by Black Advisers to Sue as Group

Merrill Lynch & Co., the brokerage unit of Bank of America Corp., won a U.S. judge’s ruling denying a bid by 17 black financial advisers for group status in their five-year-old discrimination lawsuit.

Broker George McReynolds of Nashville, Tennessee, sued in 2005, alleging Merrill Lynch’s practices and procedures favored white financial advisers over their black counterparts, impairing their ability to make comparable incomes.

U.S. District Judge Robert W. Gettleman in Chicago on Aug. 5 rejected the bid by McReynolds and 16 other advisers for certification of the case as a class action, or group, lawsuit.

“Plaintiffs’ statistical evidence alone is insufficient to establish companywide discrimination” affecting each member of the proposed class the same way, the judge said. Each individual group member’s claim must be tried before a jury, Gettleman said.

McReynolds, along with the plaintiffs who joined the case after he filed it, sought to represent about 700 advisers and trainees who had worked in the firm’s Global Private Client unit from January 2001 until now, according Gettleman’s decision.

Charlotte, North Carolina-based Bank of America, the largest U.S. bank by assets, acquired New York-based Merrill Lynch last year for about $33 billion in stock.

‘Horrific Discrimination’

Linda Friedman, a lawyer for the advisers, said she would ask a federal appeals court for permission to seek review of the ruling.

“I continue to believe that a class action is the only way to rid Wall Street of this horrific discrimination,” said Friedman, a partner at Stowell & Friedman Ltd. in Chicago. “However, the individuals who brought this lawsuit have no intention of dropping it.”

If Gettleman’s ruling stands, there could be as many as 200 trials, Friedman said.

“We’re pleased with the court’s ruling,” Bank of America spokesman William Halldin said in a phone interview. He declined to comment further.

The case is McReynolds v. Merrill Lynch Pierce Fenner & Smith Inc., 05-cv-06583, U.S. District Court, Northern District of Illinois (Chicago).

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