updated 4/21/2004 11:13:22 AM ET 2004-04-21T15:13:22

An arbitration panel has ordered Merrill Lynch & Co. to pay a former broker in its San Antonio office $2.2 million to resolve her lawsuit claiming gender discrimination.

The three-member panel's award for Hydie Sumner, issued Monday and announced Tuesday, was the largest to stem from nearly 1,000 bias lawsuits women brokers have filed against the firm since 1997.

Sumner alleged she was not allocated the same amount of brokerage work as male colleagues and that her office manager sexually harassed her.

"The firm described in the panel's decision is not today's Merrill Lynch," said Mark Herr, a Merrill Lynch spokesman. "We agree, and regret, that nearly a decade ago there was inappropriate behavior in the San Antonio office. It should not have occurred and would not be tolerated today."

Herr said the company has taken several steps to ensure such behavior does not recur, including the way it distributes account work among brokers and "expanding our diversity issues."

The Chicago law firm that handled the case, Stowell & Friedman Ltd., did not return a call for comment late Tuesday.

The office's manager no longer works for Merrill Lynch. Another 39 cases remain in mediation or arbitration.

A separate panel awarded $500,000 to a former Merrill Lynch broker last year.

Copyright 2004 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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