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A federal lawsuit has been filed against Costco by one of its assistant store managers, charging that the company has not promoted her because she is a woman. Shirley Ellis, of Aurora, Colorado, says she was hired by the company six years ago and was promised that she’d be promoted within a year to manager.

The suit says 12 percent of Costco's store managers are women in a workforce that's 50 percent female. Two of 30 upper-level executives are women, according to the suit.

"We strongly disagree with any claim that Costco has discriminated against any individual or group of employees, and we will respond to this particular claim in the proper forum," Costco said in a statement.

Ellis is represented by Brad Seligman, the same attorney representing a group of women who have filed a gender discrimination suit against Wal-Mart, charging that the company discriminates against women both in terms of promotions and pay scales. That suit has been granted class-action status, which would cover for than 1.5 million women, though Wal-Mart is pursuing an appeal of the class action status.

Similarly, Seligman is looking for the Costco case to be given class action status – though the potential pool of plaintiffs would only be about 650.
KC's View:
The pool may be smaller, but the water is no less treacherous. Based on what we’ve heard from folks like CEO Jim Sinegal over the years, we’d be surprised if there were institutionalized bias at Costco…though you never know what kind of inadvertent and unintentional cultural biases creep into any corporate culture.