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U.S. court OKs Bank of America $39 million gender bias deal

An ATM machine at a Bank of America office is pictured in Burbank, California August 19, 2011. REUTERS/Fred Prouser
An ATM machine at a Bank of America office is pictured in Burbank, California August 19, 2011. REUTERS/Fred Prouser

By Jonathan Stempel and Nate Raymond

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A federal judge on Friday approved Bank of America Corp's $39 million settlement of a gender discrimination lawsuit by female brokers over objections that the accord would enshrine bias on Wall Street.

U.S. District Judge Pamela Chen in Brooklyn, New York called the settlement "in all respects, fair, reasonable, and adequate."

The settlement, announced on September 6, resolved claims on behalf of about 4,800 current and former female financial advisers that women were paid less than men, deprived of handling their fair share of lucrative accounts and faced retaliation if they complained.

It is separate from the bank's $160 million settlement with hundreds of black Merrill Lynch & Co brokers who alleged racial bias in pay, promotions and how big accounts were allocated.

Bank of America bought Merrill in January 2009.

Bill Haldin, a spokesman for Bank of America, in an email said the settlement provides for additional steps that "will enrich our existing diversity, inclusion and development programs, providing even more opportunities for women to succeed as financial advisers."

The gender bias accord required Bank of America to hire an independent monitor to oversee improvements and a consultant to study how the bank "teams" brokers. Policy improvements will remain in effect for three years.

Seventy-five female brokers, including named plaintiff Judy Calibuso, had in a November 29 court filing objected to the "meager" settlement amount and "weak programmatic relief."

They claimed that approval would represent a "huge step backwards" that would "enshrine" and perpetuate discrimination by Merrill and its Wall Street rivals.

Calibuso, a Miami-area broker who had worked since 1995 for Bank of America and a predecessor, had been the only one of the five lead plaintiffs to oppose the settlement, which involved no admission of wrongdoing by the bank, court records show.

She rescinded her decision to opt out of the settlement after a December 20 hearing, the records show.

Rachel Geman, a lawyer for the plaintiffs at Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein, in an email said she was "pleased we were able to resolve this matter."

Chen awarded Geman's firm and co-counsel at Outten & Golden Camore than $12.6 million to cover fees and costs.

Lawyers for others who objected to the settlement did not respond to requests for comment.

Bank of America, based in Charlotte, North Carolina, had 15,624 financial advisers as of the end of September. Its $160 million accord with black brokers is one of the largest by an employer on a U.S. racial bias lawsuit.

The gender case is Calibuso et al v. Bank of America Corp et al, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of New York, No. 10-01413.

(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel and Nate Raymond in New York; Editing by Dan Grebler and Leslie Gevirtz)

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