Thursday, November 1, 2007

Merrill Lynch files trademark infringement lawsuit to stop anonymous Merrill Lynch imposter from sending racist e-mails

On Tuesday, October 30, 2007, Merrill Lynch & Co., Inc. (“Merrill Lynch”) filed a trademark infringement lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York against “John Doe” – the unknown sender of e-mails containing some explicit racially denigrating remarks directed to be offensive towards African-Americans (e.g., using the “N-word” and the Don Imus-inspired "Nappy Headed Hoes”). See Merrill Lynch & Co., Inc. v. Doe, Case No. 1:07-cv-09649 (S.D.N.Y.). The e-mails went out to several African-American investment brokers within Merrill Lynch as well as the Reverend Al Sharpton back in September. Links to various news articles on the lawsuit can be found here, here, here, and here.

According to Merrill Lynch’s complaint, the defendant sent the e-mail using a Hotmail e-mail address but signed using the name of an actual Merrill Lynch regional administrative manager. The e-mail, made to appear as thought it had been sent from this Merrill Lynch manager, included a reference to the MERRILL LYNCH trademark. Given Merrill Lynch’s efforts to “foster an inclusive workplace environment that promotes mutual respect, acceptance, cooperation, and productivity among people from varying backgrounds, . . . defendant's fraudulent emails have not only cast the Merrill Lynch employee whose name has been used for these racially explicit emails in a negative light, they tarnish the reputation and good will associated with the Merrill Lynch name and mark.”

Merrill Lynch plans to subpoena the defendant’s Internet service provider as well as Microsoft (which owns Hotmail) in an effort to discover the identity of John Doe, which Merrill Lynch suspects lives in the Midwest.

In addition to seeking unspecified damages, Merrill Lynch is asking for injunctive relief to stop the further dissemination of such emails to its employees as well as any further false designation of origin of such e-mails to Merrill Lynch or its employees.

Sharpton was quoted as hailing the Merrill Lynch as “necessary and timely” given the sharp increase in threats and hate mail/emails this year directed towards himself and his National Action Network. Sharpton hopes that the lawsuit will encourage law enforcement to stop this kind of unchecked and illegal behavior.

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