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San Francisco�California’s Impact Fund last week filed a second lawsuit against a major chain store, this time a class action accusing Costco Wholesale Corp. of gender discrimination. Filed in San Francisco federal court by a Costco assistant manager who claims that women are consistently denied promotions to higher-paying managerial positions, the suit comes on the heels of a similar sex discrimination case against Wal-Mart Stores Inc.�also filed by The Impact Fund�that was recently certified as a class action. Employment law experts say the latest case is part of a growing backlash against sex discrimination at corporations similar to scores of race-based discrimination suits filed in the 1970s. The cases also reflect a strategy shift: Instead of pursuing individual wrongful termination claims, plaintiffs’ attorneys are now favoring class actions, which are considered more likely to succeed�and much more lucrative. “We’re at the threshold of a new 10-year wave of gender-based class action suits,” said workplace law specialist John Fox of Mountain View, Calif.’s Fenwick & West. “I’ve predicted that since the Wal-Mart case was filed. These cases are easy to certify because the numbers are so large and the statistics are so powerful.” In addition to the Costco and Wal-Mart suits, Morgan Stanley Dean Witter & Co. recently agreed to a $54 million sex discrimination settlement. The latest suit seeks class action status and could include as many as 650 former female Costco workers across America subjected to gender discrimination. Fewer than one in six of Costco’s senior store managers are women, yet the company’s work force is roughly 50% female, according to the suit. Monetary damages were not specified, but attorneys said damages could reach into the millions. Executives at Issaquah, Wash.-based Costco declined to comment. The complaint�which is also being litigated by San Francisco firms Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein and Davis, Cowell & Bowe�alleges that Costco has no job-posting or application procedures for assistant manager and general manager positions, nor any written promotion standards and criteria for these jobs. “There is no clearer example of a glass ceiling than how Costco promotes workers into assistant manager and general manager positions,” said Brad Seligman, executive director of the nonprofit Impact Fund and the lead attorney on the case. “There is no promotion system at Costco. Women must rely on the subjective and arbitrary decisions of Costco’s all-male senior management.”

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