Merrill Lynch, Trainees Get Approval on $14M Wage Deal

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By Lisa Nagele-Piazza

May 9 — A federal judge granted approval to a $14 million deal between Merrill Lynch & Co. and participants in a training program on their Fair Labor Standards Act collective claims for allegedly unpaid wages.

The claimants had participated in the Merrill Lynch Practice Management Development Program, which was a five-stage program for financial adviser trainees.

In two consolidated cases, the Merrill Lynch trainees alleged the company violated the FLSA and state wage-and-hour laws by requiring workers in the “training stage” to work “off-the-clock” hours without pay and by misclassifying “development stage” trainees as exempt from overtime requirements.

The settlement agreement defined the FLSA collective members as individuals who worked for Merrill Lynch anywhere in the U.S. as a development stage or training stage trainee between Oct. 29, 2011, and Dec. 31, 2015.

“The Court finds that the settlement is fair and reasonable, is the product of arm's length negotiations after contested litigation, and resolves bona fide disputes,” Judge George B. Daniels of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York said in an order entered May 6.

The court granted $4.67 million in attorneys’ fees and about $80,000 in litigation expenses to class counsel. The 10 named plaintiffs were each provided $10,000 service awards and several other participants were awarded $7,500 and $5,000 service payments for their respective contributions and risks taken in the matter.

Merrill Lynch denies the allegations but decided that continued litigation of the claims would be expensive and wouldn’t be an efficient use of management and employee time, according to the settlement agreement.

The case will be closed within 31 days of the order entry, unless there is an appeal, the court said. In that case, the matter will be dismissed two days after the final appeal is resolved.

Outten & Golden LLP and Shavitz Law Group PA represented the trainees. McGuire Woods LLP represented Merrill Lynch and parent company Bank of America Corp.

To contact the reporter on this story: Lisa Nagele-Piazza in Washington at lnagele@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Susan J. McGolrick at smcgolrick@bna.com