Merrill Lynch is about to make revisions to its account-distribution procedures. In a memo to the sales force in October, retail chief Launny Steffens said, "By the end of the year, we will further modify our policy regarding account distributions to shift the emphasis from production to other performance criteria."

As of late October, Merrill hadn't defined what Steffens meant by "other performance criteria." The firm expects to have a national policy "that gives clear direction to the branch managers," says spokesperson Bill Halldin. Other criteria could include corporate goals such as completing financial plans, he says.

The move is part of Merrill's settlement of a class-action discrimination lawsuit. Under the settlement, account redistributions were to be publicly available in writing, beginning this year, so women reps could see if they were getting a fair share.

But the plaintiffs' attorneys in the case say distribution policies had to be requested from branch managers. They also claim that Merrill managers rely too much on a broker's production in passing out accounts, which violates terms of the settlement. Women who haven't gotten an equal share of accounts in the past have lower production, says Mary Stowell, one of the Chicago-based attorneys for the plaintiffs.

In July, Merrill made its first report on the prior six months of reassignments. Since then, the statistics have been updated monthly and are now available over the firm's workstations, Halldin says.

Merrill and the plaintiffs' attorneys are still dueling in court over other details of account-distribution policies.--Rosalyn Retkwa