When is discrimination not discrimination?

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Is matching salespeople to clients by gender and ethnicity discrimination? We think not.

Bank of America (B of A) stands accused of racial discrimination in the US for this and other misdemeanours. According to Reuters, the bank's being sued by numerous unspecified plaintiffs for steering its African-American bankers and brokers towards African-American clients on the grounds that clients are more comfortable dealing with sales professionals of their own race.

It strikes us that this isn't such a crime, and if it is, it's one that's committed by similarly nefarious banks this side of the Atlantic.

"Banks clearly look for people who can empathise with clients," says Shaun Springer, chief executive of search firm Napier Scott. "Salespeople are employed because of their cultural understanding of the client base - and that generally derives from cultural similarities."

"There's definitely a feeling that it's good to match salespeople to clients of the same cultural background," confirms another derivatives-focused headhunter.

So where did B of A go wrong? The main issue appears to have been that the African-American clients assigned to the African-American bankers and brokers were less wealthy than their white counterparts. Were their accounts more lucrative, we have the distinct suspicion that this case wouldn't have been brought...