BofA settles claims it cheated Merrill trainees out of overtime

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Bank of America Corp and its Merrill Lynch unit will pay $14 million to settle lawsuits claiming that they forced financial adviser trainees to work 60 hours and more per week, including on weekends, without paying them overtime.

The company logo of the Bank of America and Merrill Lynch is displayed at its office in Hong Kong March 8, 2013. REUTERS/Bobby Yip

The settlement filed on Tuesday night in federal court in Manhattan resolves proposed class-action claims that the second-largest U.S. bank violated the rights of roughly 9,500 trainees nationwide who worked for several weeks or months in its Practice Management Development program.

Plaintiffs like Andrew Blum of Stuart, Florida; Zaq Harrison of Baltimore; Samuel Jorgenson in New York and Ronni Reiburn in New York claimed that Merrill regularly required them to work 10- to 14-hour days, attend client functions and work on weekends.

They said the work was necessary because Merrill expected them to generate client leads, but that the failure to pay for their extra time violated the federal Fair Labor Standards Act.

Bank of America spokesman Bill Halldin declined to comment on the settlement. The accord requires court approval.

Justin Swartz, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, said the accord provides about $1,000 per class member, after legal fees.

The plaintiffs’ law firms, Outten & Golden and Shavitz Law Group, plan to seek $4.67 million in fees, or one-third of the settlement amount, court papers show.

Bank of America and other large U.S. banks took steps more than two years ago to ease working conditions for some staff, following the July 2013 death from natural causes of a 21-year-old Bank of America Merrill Lynch intern in London.

Another law firm had filed a similar overtime lawsuit in January 2014 in federal court in Los Angeles.

The judge in that case rejected a proposed $5 million settlement last April, in part because the accord would have also covered claims arising from class members’ subsequent employment as financial advisers.

Plaintiffs in the California settlement would have received about $90 each, after legal fees, according to court papers.

The cases are Blum et al v. Merrill Lynch & Co et al, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, No. 15-01636; and Reiburn et al v. Merrill Lynch & Co et al in the same court, No. 15-02960.

Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York