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Merrill Lynch Bias Settlement OK’d

June 18, 1998

CHICAGO (AP) _ A federal judge gave preliminary approval Thursday to a settlement between Merrill Lynch & Co. and 2,500 women employees who accused the brokerage firm of gender discrimination.

``This is a historic personal and moral victory for professional women on Wall Street,″ said attorney Mary Stowell, representing women who filed the class-action suit.

U.S. District Judge Reuben Castillo gave preliminary approval to the settlement in a conference call with lawyers for the women and Merrill Lynch.

``This document easily, easily meets the criteria for preliminary approval, and so I am happy to give it preliminary approval today,″ Castillo told the attorneys.

Under the settlement, whose terms were announced in May, the nation’s largest brokerage will not only pay compensation to 2,500 gender-bias victims but end a mandatory arbitration system that has been used to settle all discrimination cases involving brokers in the past.

The mandatory arbitration system is in wide use among Wall Street firms.

Attorneys for the women maintained that the arbitrators were largely male, which resulted in biased rulings.

There is no maximum amount of money available to the 2,500 women under the settlement. Each woman’s case will be heard by a mediators who will decide the appropriate compensation.

Besides claiming regular compensation under the settlement, the eight women who originally brought the suit will divide $600,000.

The lawsuit claims that Merrill Lynch supervisors helped male brokers become more successful than their female counterparts by giving them a disproportionate share of the accounts of departing brokers as well as walk-in and call-in customers.

Under terms of the settlement, Merrill Lynch is to develop an objective system of distributing such accounts.

The lawsuit against the New York-based company was filed in Chicago because the woman who initiated the lawsuit, Mary Beth Cremin, was a broker in its suburban Northbrook office.

If the settlement is still considered to be fair following that hearing, the judge would be expected to give it final approval, perhaps in September, attorneys said.

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