After trading accusations in an arbitration dispute, Bank of America Merrill Lynch has been ordered to pay one of its former financial advisers $1.55 million in compensatory damages and expunge his Form U5.
A Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) panel came to that conclusion after Merrill Lynch first filed its claim against Angel E. Aquino in September 2009 following his termination from the firm.
In the dispute, Merrill Lynch alleged that Aquino had breached a promissory note from April 2008 and obtained unjust enrichment after failing to pay the firm back. Aquino was employed at Merrill Lynch from September 2006 through September 2009 in Guaynabo, Puerto Rico, according to FINRA records. Merrill Lynch requested $969,870. for the promissory note, plus interest, attorneys’ fees and costs that brought the total damages sought to about $1.5 million at the close of the hearing.
Aquino and his lawyers hit Bank of America back in a counterclaim, alleging breach of contract and termination without cause. Aquino also requested the expungement of his form U-5, alleging that defamatory language was put on it.
In that counterclaim, Aquino requested more than $150 million from Bank of America Merrill Lynch, including $100 million in punitive damages, $50 million for the current value of commissions that he could have made over his lifetime, $7.5 million totaling five times his average annual earnings, $4 million for physical and mental pain damages, $2 million for the loss of negotiating an advance against future commissions with another firm and $1 million for the loss of monthly transition compensation damages, among other costs and losses.
At the close of the hearing, Aquino requested $13.29 million in compensatory damages.
The FINRA panel sided with Aquino, ordering Merrill Lynch to pay him $1.55 million in compensatory damages, excluding interest, for the defamatory nature of what was written in his record. The panel denied Aquino’s counterclaims for emotional distress and punitive damages. Merrill Lynch was also ordered to pay Aquino $600 for a counterclaim filing fee.
In addition, the FINRA panel ordered that the language in Aquino’s Form U5 be changed to: “Mr. Aquino was terminated not for cause.” That would erase the language in his record that previously stated: “Mr. Aquino’s employment was terminated on September 21, 2009 for failure to adhere to the firm’s policies and standards regarding employee conduct. The matter did not involve customer accounts.”
A Bank of America Merrill Lynch spokesperson declined to comment for this story. Neither Aquino, who is now employed at Morgan Stanley Smith Barney in Miami, nor his lawyers were immediately available for comment.
Lorie Konish writes for Financial Planning magazine.