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Female advisers slap Bank of America with sex discrimination suit

Three female advisers claim they were treated as “second-class citizens,” according to the class action

By Hilary Johnson

Mar 30, 2010 @ 3:56 pm (Updated 8:21 am) EST

AP

Three female advisers today filed a federal class action against Bank of America Corp. alleging sex discrimination.

The plaintiffs — Judy Calibuso, Julie Moss and Dianne Goedtel — claim that they were discriminated against as financial advisers working at Bank of America Merrill Lynch in the opportunities made available to them, including account distributions; their pay; and the professional support they were provided.

The plaintiffs also claim that they were retaliated against when they complained about their treatment. They are seeking injunctive and declaratory relief, an award of back and front pay, and compensatory and punitive damages.

The suit was filed in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York.

Each of the plaintiffs first filed a complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and each was issued a right to sue letter.

The two firms representing the women, Outten & Golden LLP and Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein LLP, have experience with this type of case. Outten & Golden successfully represented lead plaintiff Allison Schieffelin and the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in a 2001 case against Morgan Stanley, which resulted in a $54 million settlement. The two firms worked together on another bias case against Smith Barney, which resulted in a $33 million settlement.

Of the three plaintiffs in this case, only Ms. Calibuso is still employed by BofA Merrill Lynch, and works in the firm's Miami office. She has been a financial adviser for 15 years.

Ms. Goedtel, who worked at BofA from 2006 to 2007, is now a financial adviser with a competing firm that was not identified in the claim, and Ms. Moss, who was with BofA from 2003 to 2006, is on military leave.

According to the complaint, “This case is about deep-rooted and pervasive gender discrimination at the nation's largest bank and brokerage firm.” The complaint continues: “Beneath the veneer of a world-class financial institution, defendants treat their female financial advisers as second-class citizens.”

In a press release issued by Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein, Ms. Calibuso said, “I have come forward to help women at Merrill Lynch and Bank of America keep the company true to its promise of being the ‘bank of opportunity' for all of us, and not just for male employees. My hope is that this lawsuit will bring change to Merrill Lynch's and Bank of America's policies and corporate culture.”

A spokeswoman for BofA, Shirley Norton, denied these allegations in an e-mail, writing: “We deny the allegations and the bank will vigorously defend against the claims. Bank of America has a strong track record of hiring and developing associates and has been recognized for its success in creating and supporting a diverse and inclusive workforce. We do not tolerate discrimination and discrimination of the type alleged in the complaint violates the bank's policies and values. Bank of America is regularly recognized as one of the top companies for women for its diversity policies.”