Bank of America Corp was sued on Thursday in a federal lawsuit in New York, accusing the largest U.S. bank of discriminating against female brokers at the former Merrill Lynch & Co by offering them lower retention bonuses than their male counterparts.

The lawsuit seeks class-action status, and contends that women brokers were typically eligible for lower bonuses because of gender bias at Merrill, including the brokerage's practice of steering wealthier clients to male brokers.

Because bonuses were based on production, or fees earned on client assets, the payout practice authorized by Bank of America disproportionately disadvantages women and advantages white men as favored employees, the complaint said.

The case was brought in Manhattan federal court by Jaime Goodman, who said she worked as a Merrill broker for 16 years prior to the January 1, 2009 merger.

According to the complaint, Goodman was a top-quintile performer at Merrill, having been a $1 million producer for nearly a decade, but would have fared even better and gotten a higher retention bonus absent discrimination.

Bank of America did not immediately return requests for comment.

The plaintiff is seeking compensatory damages including the value of all compensation and benefits lost because of the alleged bias, as well as punitive damages and other remedies.

The case is Goodman v. Merrill Lynch & Co, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan), No. 09-5841.