Investors outraged by the bonuses that Bank of America continued to pay Merrill Lynch employees after buying that brokerage firm out in 2008 now have a class action suit to join.
A Manhattan district judge has ruled that disgruntled shareholders can combine their claims that BofA hid how much it was agreeing to pay Merrill executives even while its own financial condition was forcing it to accept a federal bailout.
As he pointed out the dispute definitely qualifies as a "class action" suit because so many investors were affected by any misstatements BofA might have made.
In theory, everyone who held Bank of America stock and call options between September 18, 2008 and January 21, 2009 -- the period between when the deal was announced and when BofA confessed a steep quarterly loss -- is eligible to join the suit.
Since BofA is arguably the most widely traded stock in history, that means that practically the entire market had an immediate financial stake in the bank telling the truth.
Even today, BAC shares are a significant constituent of some of the world's biggest mutual funds, ETFs and other institutional portfolios, which directly hold 57% of the stock on behalf of their own shareholders.
For a lot of industry watchers, this news reopens old questions that were not answered so much as buried. Right or wrong, the bonuses have already been paid, and many of the principals have moved on.
But was this a case of "I won't be here, you won't be here" for executives that should have been thinking of their shareholders instead of their own compensation?
Until we know, this will only prey on investors' ability to trust Merrill, BofA, or other institutions of similar size.
And since those investors are also clients, the question is why they're sticking with an institution that so many think has yet to tell them the whole truth.