Our first thought on reading that Stanley O’Neal, CEO of Merrill Lynch, was going to be deposed in a discrimination case brought by a black employee in the bank's Nashville office was: huh?
If you were bringing a case alleging racial discrimination, would you really want to bring attention to the fact that the CEO of the company you are suing is black? Or that the company you are suing is the only major Wall Street firm lead by an African American? Seems kinda like a bad idea.
Our second thought: pure effin genius.
O’Neal joined Merrill in 1986 as a vice-president and undoubtedly must have encountered some bigotry in his time there. As hard as it may be to understand in this age of mandatory diversity training and affirmative action, in 1986 we were less than twenty-years away from the passage of the civil rights act. There were still a lot of people working at the bank who could remember the days when racial discrimination was not only legally honky-dory but actually mandatory in some parts of the country.
This is speculation. We have no idea whether O’Neal personally encountered discrimination at Merrill. We do know he is on record as not being satisfied with the progress of diversity at his bank. And this itself might be useful to the plaintiff, George McReynolds. After all, if progress has been slower than the CEO would want, it definitely opens the question: how come?
So bringing in O’Neal to testify may be a very, very good idea.
Merrill Lynch CEO to Give Deposition [Associated Press in the Houston Chronicle]