By Dan Levine
SAN FRANCISCO, Sept 25 (Reuters) - A U.S. judge has certified a class action lawsuit against Costco Wholesale Corp over allegations of gender discrimination in the store's promotion practices.
Three women plaintiffs say Costco's promotion system has a disparate impact on women employees who seek advancement to general manager and assistant general manager.
A different judge had allowed the case to proceed as a class action against the warehouse club operator in 2007. However, last year a federal appeals court ordered that the decision be reconsidered, in light of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that derailed a nationwide class action against Wal-Mart Stores Inc .
In his order on Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Edward Chen in San Francisco federal court said the Costco class claims differ from those in the Wal-Mart case in "several material ways". For example, the size of the Costco class is a "mere fraction" of the proposed Wal-Mart case: approximately 700 people as opposed to 1.5 million, Chen wrote.
Representatives for Costco could not be reached for comment.
Jocelyn Larkin, an attorney for the Impact Fund in California -- which represents the plaintiffs in both the Costco and Wal-Mart cases -- said Chen took to heart the Supreme Court's instructions that lower court judges should engage in a rigorous analysis.
"The decision is incredibly thorough," she said.
The case in U.S. District Court, Northern District of California is Shirley "Rae" Ellis et al. vs. Costco Wholesale Corporation, No.04-3341.