For those of us that have been practicing for a while, it had seemed that the days of the big settlements for race discrimination cases were behind us.
But the news today is a reminder for employers that the risks still remain.
The New York Times reported this morning that Merrill Lynch has agreed to pay $160M to settle claims of race discrimination. The monies will reportedly be available to all black brokers and trainees employed at the company since May 2001.
It is one of the largest settlements for a discrimination case ever reported. (The Texaco and Coca-Cola suits reportedly settled for $176M and $192.5M.)
There is little doubt this case will be analyzed in the weeks and months ahead for the facts and legal theories presented.
For now, however, the case ought to serve as a reminder to employers that race discrimination claims are not yet behind us as a society and that employers need to be vigilant in ensuring that its anti-discrimination policies are followed.
Merrill Lynch has such a policy, but as the settlement shows, a policy is only as good as the enforcement behind it.