The Democratic Party plans to highlight the alleged Republican "war on women" at its convention in Charlotte next month, an effort that could be undermined by the selection of former Costco CEO and cofounder Jim Sinegal to address the convention.
During his tenure at the retail supply firm, Sinegal faced allegations of widespread gender discrimination at the company, which was the target of a 2006 class-action lawsuit.
The plaintiffs in the case alleged that Costco frequently promoted less-qualified male employees to the detriment of female employees, and failed to give sufficient notice of advancement opportunities.
Court filings charge that Costco practices allowed for "favoritism and individual biases" in the awarding of promotions. The company disregarded complaints of such discrimination, and Sinegal personally opposed recommendations to provide advanced notice of senior management opportunities, the suit alleged.
"I have always felt very, very strongly and very adamantly, that those were not the types of jobs that should be up for posting," he said in a 2006 testimony.
Costco’s lead attorney said Seligman personally signed off on all promotions to management positions.
The lawsuit noted that although women made up about half of Costco’s 78,000 employees, less than 20 percent of senior managers were female, well below the established benchmark of 34.1 percent for other retail companies.
Sinegal attempted to explain the gender discrepancy in an April 2006 deposition, saying it was because female workers preferred to work fewer hours due to family responsibilities.
"Our experience is that the women have a tendency to be the caretakers and have the responsibility for the children and for the family," he said.
Sinegal dismissed the allegations in a 2009 interview, saying: "You can always find someone who is dissatisfied with the way you've done something and is going to bring a lawsuit."
The case, which involves about 800 female Costco employees who were denied promotions to general manager or assistant manager, had been on hold for years but began to move forward in June 2011 following a Supreme Court ruling in a similar case involving Walmart.
Sinegal, who has given hundreds of thousands of dollars to Democratic candidates and committees since 2007, hosted President Obama at a fundraiser last month. The president praised Sinegal and Costco at the event, saying he "couldn’t ask for somebody I admire more to introduce me than Jim Sinegal."
"The story of Costco and everything you guys have done I think is representative of what America is all about," the president said.
Sinegal is not alone in being criticized for discriminating against female employees.
The White House, the Obama campaign, prominent Democratic Senators, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.), and the Democratic National Committee all consistently pay women less than men, several Washington Free Beacon analyses have found.