A federal judge has ruled that a long-delayed class-action lawsuit against Issaquah, Wash.-based Costco Wholesale Corp. alleging gender discrimination in the retailer’s promotion and management practices can proceed, the Puget Sound Business Journal reports.
In his 86-page decision earlier this week, U.S. District Judge Edward Chen said the plaintiffs’ attorneys could proceed with discovery in the lawsuit that alleges Costco discriminated against roughly 700 women in promotions to the positions of warehouse general manager and warehouse assistant general manager. Among the complaints: the warehouse club did not post general manager and assistant manager jobs or job descriptions.
The lawsuit was filed in 2004 but put on a back burner while a similar class-action gender discrimination lawsuit against rival Wal-Mart wound through the legal system, according to the Journal.
In its decision to allow the class-action lawsuit to proceed, the court said that, although the Costco case has “some superficial factual resemblance” to the Wal-Mart case, it is “in reality a much different case.”
Last year, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that too many female Wal-Mart employees—up to 1.5 million women—were included in the Wal-Mart lawsuit for it to be considered a single class-action lawsuit.
In its ruling, the court set out a tentative trial plan for the Costco class-action case. In the initial stage, a jury will be asked to decide whether Costco engaged in a pattern of discrimination, whether the company’s conduct meets the standards for awarding punitive damages and whether the company is liable to the plaintiffs for gender discrimination and, if so, in what amount.
The court, meanwhile, will decide whether Costco’s employment practices had an adverse impact on the class of plaintiffs, whether these employment practices were justified by business necessity and, if so, whether there was a less discriminatory alternative that might have been used. If the court decides that Costco did discriminate against female employees, it would then determine the appropriate relief for the plaintiffs.