Three women have filed a lawsuit against Bank of America Corp. and its Merrill Lynch & Co. unit, claiming the bank treats its female financial advisers as "second-class citizens" in terms of pay.

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Brooklyn, alleges the Charlotte banking company and its Merrill unit discriminate against female financial advisers in terms of compensation, distribution of accounts and other business opportunities, professional support and other terms and conditions of employment.

"The violations are systemic, based upon companywide policies and practices, and [are] the result of unchecked gender bias that pervades defendants' corporate culture," the lawsuit said.

It seeks class-action status on behalf of former and current female financial advisers at the bank and Merrill.

The lawsuit was filed by Judy Calibuso, a Merrill Lynch financial adviser in Florida; Julie Moss, a Florida woman who worked as a Bank of America financial adviser between 2003 and 2006; and Dianne Goedtel, a Long Island woman who worked as a Bank of America financial adviser between February 2006 and September 2007.

Shirley Norton, a Bank of America spokeswoman, said the bank denies the allegations and will vigorously defend against the claims.

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