EEOC: Merrill Lynch Hired Iranian for His Brains, Fired Him for His Nationality
Washington DC - Merrill Lynch & Co., the world's third-largest securities firm by market value, was sued by the U.S. government on accusations of discrimination against an Iranian employee. The lawsuit was filed by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) based on a complaint by Dr. Majid Borumand, a former Vice President and Quantitative Analyst at Merrill Lynch.
In a lawsuit filed against the company a week ago, the government charges that Merrill Lynch refused to promote Borumand and later fired him "on the basis of his national origin, Iranian, and religion, Muslim." It alleges that while employed at Merrill Lynch, Buromand was subject to hostile and bigoted remarks, "including but not limited to a comment that ‘Quants [Quantitative Analysts] were like Israelis and traders were like Palestinians.'"
Borumand was prohibited from sitting on the trading floor with his peers, the other Quantitative Analysts in his group, 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 said that he did not wear a beard, pray at work, or say or do anything overtly religious or political. "The mere fact that I was an Iranian with Muslim heritage, I was suspicious," said Borumand.
Borumand made several efforts to alert his supervisors to his treatment and asked to be relocated to the floor occupied by other Quantitative Analysts. In a letter to Merrill Lynch dated September 27, 2005, Leila Laoudji, Deputy Director of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, characterized Borumand's subsequent firing in 2005 as "retaliatory."
For its part, Merrill Lynch denies that any discrimination took place. "We respectfully-but strongly- disagree with the EEOC and deny Mr. Borumand's' allegation," it said in a press statement last week.
Borumand came to the US over sixteen years ago on a student visa and moved to New York after attending graduate school in Wisconsin. He joined the New-York based international securities firm in January, 2002. Merrill Lynch filed a I-129 Petition for a Non-Immigrant Worker (H-1 visa) on behalf of Borumand shortly thereafter, listing Borumand's advanced academic credentials and the absence of comparable American candidates as reason for hire.
Borumand has a Ph.D. in Theoretical Physics and a Masters in Mathematical Finance. His work has been published in prestigious scientific journals and has been cited by members of the scientific community.
Borumand was laid-off on June 23, 2005. The termination letter stated that his dismissal was part of a greater "reduction of force" within the company and that it was not performance related. Two weeks before his termination, Borumand, along with 37 other employees with doctorates, received an email from the marketing department announcing a new Ph.D. recruiting effort within the Global Markets Group. Borumand alleges that in the months prior to and following his termination, Merrill Lynch hired thousands of new workers, including Quantitative Analysts.
Shortly after Borumand was fired, a computer programer at the firm was promoted to Quantitative Analyst. Prior to joining Merrill Lynch, the co-worker served as Chief Technology Officer for a private software company. His formal education is limited to high school, according to Borumand. In its 2002 employee visa petition, Merrill Lynch testified that the duties of "VP/Quantitative Analyst" required "at minimum," a Masters in Mathematics or a similar degree.
The EEOC is a federal agency charged with the administration, interpretation and enforcement of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. While the federal lawsuit was filed by the EEOC independently of Borumand, it demands he be paid reparation for lost wages and mental duress. Borumand says that he intends to file a personal lawsuit based on similar charges.
The case is one of several the EEOC has brought against Wall Street in the last few years. While two prior suits against the industry dealt with mental health and gender discrimination, this is arguably the first to address discrimination based on Middle Eastern decent.
"This is something we are trying to get in front of, it is really important to us." said Merrill Lynch Spokeswomen, Selena Morris, in an interview yesterday. Morris pointed to the election of a new Diversity and Inclusion Chair and reported that the corporate board was almost 25 percent women. When asked about the national origins of visa holders employed by Merrill Lynch in the US and the minority composition of its workforce, the spokeswomen said she could not go into specifics. "Like all of Wall Street, we still have a lot of work to do," Morris said.