Edward Jones pays $34 mln to settle bias claims by Black financial advisors

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REUTERS/Tingshu Wang

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(Reuters) - A federal judge in Chicago has approved Edward D. Jones & Co LP's $34 million settlement of a class action claiming the investment firm gave less lucrative work to Black financial advisors and deprived them of opportunities to advance.

U.S. District Judge Andrea Wood on Monday signed off on the deal, ending a 2018 lawsuit on behalf of at least 800 Black financial advisors (FAs) across the country represented by Stowell & Friedman. Edward Jones, which is represented by Dowd Bennett, denied wrongdoing.

The named plaintiffs had accused Edward Jones of assigning Black advisors to less lucrative territories, excluding them from programs in which FAs were given dedicated offices and were mentored by more senior advisors, and denying them client accounts and resources because of their race.

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St. Louis-based Edward Jones and its lawyers did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Nor did lawyers at Stowell & Friedman.

Edward Jones had moved to dismiss the case, claiming the named plaintiffs had failed to allege anything more than speculative claims of discrimination by unidentified decisionmakers. The firm also said the case belonged in St. Louis federal court.

Wood last November rejected both arguments. She said the case could proceed in her court because one of the named plaintiffs resides in Chicago.

As well, plaintiffs had adequately alleged that Edward Jones has firmwide policies and practices that steer lucrative business away from black FAs and deny them mentoring, support and advancement opportunities, Wood said.

Along with the eight-figure payout, Edward Jones in the settlement agreed to form an advisory council to identify and address issues of racial diversity and equity, convene a focus group of Black FAs, and provide senior managers with data on hiring and attrition of Black employees.

The case is Bland v. Edward D. Jones & Co LP, U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, No. 1:18-cv-03673.

For the plaintiffs: Linda Friedman of Stowell & Friedman

For Edward Jones: James Bennett and Jennifer Kingston of Dowd Bennett

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Dan Wiessner (@danwiessner) reports on labor and employment and immigration law, including litigation and policy making. He can be reached at daniel.wiessner@thomsonreuters.com.