Morgan Stanley has settled a sex-discrimination lawsuit for $54m, just as it was about to go to trial. The financial-services industry remains the most fertile ground for such legal assaults, but they are spreading to other industries, and prompting a debate about whether the law is the best way of making the workplace fair

It has taken six years since her original complaint, but Allison Schieffelin (pictured), a former bond trader at Morgan Stanley, said that she was happy with this week’s deal with her ex-employer. Agreed on Monday July 12th, the $54m settlement will cover up to 340 employees, with $12m going to Ms Schieffelin herself.

America’s Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), which took the case on, had alleged that the Wall Street investment bank had systematically denied promotion and pay increases to women, and allowed male staff to take clients to strip-clubs and to make crude comments.

Morgan Stanley has denied any wrongdoing but has agreed to change its working practices, including introducing training on “diversity”, and to be monitored by an independent lawyer and the EEOC for three years.

This is simply the latest in a long line of sex-bias settlements in the financial-services industry, which is still dominated by white males, some of whom have a less-than-sophisticated sense of humour. These cases have sparked a broader debate about whether the law is the most appropriate weapon for making conditions in the workplace fairer.

Although sex-discrimination lawsuits are on the rise in many industries, they have long been particularly common among financial-services businesses (maybe it’s the long hours, maybe the high stakes). The largest corporate sex-bias settlement came in 1992, when State Farm Insurance paid $240m to 800 current and former employees.

In the so-called Boom-Boom Room scandal (named after a basement party-room), Smith Barney, now a division of Citigroup, agreed in 1997 to pay almost 2,000 women an estimated $100m in damages. In 2002, American Express, a travel and finance group, agreed to pay $31m to settle a lawsuit alleging sex and age discrimination filed on behalf of more than 4,000 women.

In recent years, anti-discrimation lawsuits have crossed the Atlantic. In Britain, Stephanie Villalba, the former head of Merrill Lynch’s private-client business in Europe, is seeking £7.5m ($13.8m) in damages after being dismissed last year—because of her gender, she says.

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