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Labor Department’s BofA case among the few to end up in court

The U.S. Department of Labor’s racial discrimination case against Bank of America is one of only a few such investigations that have made it to a courtroom, the department said Tuesday.

An administrative law judge ordered Bank of America to pay a total of $2.2 million to more than 1,000 black job-seekers who had been turned down for positions in Charlotte, the labor department announced Monday. Earlier, the judge had ruled that Bank of America repeatedly favored white applicants over black counterparts for entry-level jobs in 1993 and from 2002 to 2005.

The case is unusual not just for how long it has taken – 20 years and counting – but in the outcome. The department says 99.8 percent of similar cases are settled before they go before a judge.

The lengthy legal battle also highlights how stringently Bank of America has fought the allegations. And it might not be over yet.

Bank of America still has until next week to file an exception to the decision, which is similar to an appeal. The Charlotte bank also could request more time to weigh its options.

A Bank of America spokesman declined to comment further Tuesday. The day before, the bank said it was reviewing the decision and that “diversity and inclusion are part of our culture.”

If the dollar figure stands, it will be the largest payment made to a group of workers in this type of case since March 2012, when FedEx agreed to pay $3 million to resolve Labor Department claims that it had discriminated against women and minorities in hiring for entry-level package handling and parcel assistant positions in 15 states.

The case against Bank of America has lasted through two decades, three CEOs and a name change.

It began in 1993 when the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs, which protects workers against employment discrimination by federal contractors, notified what was then NationsBank that its Charlotte office had been selected for a review. Soon after, the agency also decided to examine NationsBank facilities in Tampa, Fla., and Columbia, but the bank objected, leading to a protracted legal fight.

As part of the dispute, the bank argued that the reviews violated the Fourth Amendment's protection against unreasonable searches. The case escalated all the way to the 4th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals before being sent back to the administrative law judge system that reviews labor-related matters.

In 2010, Administrative Law Judge Linda Chapman issued an order finding the bank liable “based on statistically-significant disparities between African American and Caucasian job applicants in 1993 and from 2002-2005,” according to filings in the case. The two sides conducted settlement negotiations and in March participated in a hearing on damages. Chapman issued her order Sept. 17.

Dunn: 704-358-5235 Twitter: @andrew_dunn
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