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Merrill Lynch & Co files lawsuit against racist e-mails

Faked manager at Merrill Lynch & Co. has been sending racist e-mails to black investment brokers and to civil rights activist Al Sharpton.

Merrill Lynch names a defendant known only as "John Doe" in a lawsuit it filed in U.S. District Court in Manhattan on Tuesday. The company said it suspects he lives somewhere in the Midwest.

The e-mails started showing up in early to mid-September in the accounts of various black investment brokers, the lawsuit said.

The company said they were created using Microsoft Corp.'s "Hotmail" e-mail service and purport to be from a Merrill Lynch regional administrative manager. Merrill Lynch said it will seek a court order to unmask the defendant by obtaining information about the e-mail account sending the messages.

The company said the e-mails have drawn complaints from some of its black employees, have cast the Merrill Lynch employee whose name has been used in a negative light, and have tarnished the company's reputation. The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages and a halt to the e-mails.

Sharpton said in a telephone interview that he has received e-mails from someone purporting to be a Merrill Lynch employee. He said he would seek to join the action.

"I salute Merrill Lynch's lawsuit. It's something that's been needed because these kinds of things have gone unchecked," Sharpton said. "It sends a signal to other bigots and copycats who would try to hide behind an e-mail address."

According to the lawsuit, the e-mails have been filled with derogatory sexist and racist remarks, such as "Nappy Headed Hoes!" (Nappy is a derogatory term that refers to the hair of some black people while "ho" is slang for prostitute.) One e-mail had the words "Dead Nigger Storage," also a line from the movie "Pulp Fiction."

Rachel Noerdlinger, a spokeswoman for Sharpton and his National Action Network, said the e-mails in the lawsuit seemed similar to several racist voice messages that were received at Sharpton's office earlier this month from a man who spoke slowly with a slight Southern drawl.