New York – Merrill Lynch & Co. agreed to pay $1.55 million to resolve a U.S. government lawsuit accusing the securities firm of discriminating against an Iranian employee. The government accused the firm of refusing to promote Dr. Majid Borumand and later firing him on the basis of his national origin and religion.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission filed the lawsuit in a New York district court in June 2007 under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. According to the five page complaint, Borumand, at the time a Quantitative Analysis and Vice President at the firm, was subject to hostile and bigoted remarks by his coworkers, passed over for promotion, and unlawfully fired in 2005.
Borumand said he was prohibited from sitting on the trading floor with his peers and placed in an office on a different floor. He was told “the reason that you are not allowed on the trading floor is because you are from a country which has a high risk factor and a threat,” according to the federal lawsuit.
Borumand has a doctorate in theoretical physics and a master’s degree in mathematical finance. He is originally from Iran and began working for Merrill Lynch in 2002 on an H-1 visa.
Under the settlement, Merrill will pay Borumand $713,333 in back pay, $356,667 in compensatory damages, and $480,000 for legal fees.
“We are pleased with the resolution of this case,” said EEOC senior trial attorney Michael J. O’Brien in a statement December 31. “Not only in terms of the significant monetary benefits, but also for the injunctive relief which will help foster a discrimination-free workplace.”
According to the consent decree settling the litigation, Merrill will institute a one hour training course on religious discrimination for its technology-equity sector employees. The firm also pledged not discriminate against employees because of national origin or religion or fire personnel for protesting discriminatory practices and agreed to report any similar employee complaints to the EEOC in the future. The EEOC says it will monitor the firm to ensure compliance.
The case is the latest of a series of similar discrimination cases after September 11, 2001, when EEOC began upping its focus on anti-Middle East discrimination, considered “retaliatory backlash.” In the two years immediately following 9/11, the EEOC reportedly received over 800 charge filings by individuals alleging discrimination due to perceived Middle Eastern identity.
While all complaints are pursued, the agency elevates “very, very few” cases to the level of a lawsuit, according to George L. Lenard, a managing partner at the employment law firm Harris, Dowell, Fisher & Harris in St. Louis. “And when they do, they put a lot of resources into it, and they do at least as good a job as any private litigator.”
But Borumand said he remained unconvinced. “I was extremely frustrated by the whole process.”