A group of eight women who are current or former employees of Home Depot Inc., a national chain of warehouse hardware stores, filed a federal lawsuit Tuesday claiming the company has separate pay and promotional guidelines for male and female employees.

Plaintiffs' attorney Barry Goldstein said the discrimination suffered by his clients was as bad as any he has seen."The patterns we have heard about and observed at Home Depot are the result of classic sexual stereotyping under which women's employment opportunities are determined not on the basis of their interest, experience or abilities, but on the basis of their sex," Goldstein said.

The suit, which will immediately begin the six-month process of being declared a class-action case by the federal court, asks for front and back pay and other compensation. Goldstein said he was also considering asking for punitive damages.

Attorneys from the two law firms representing the plaintiffs told a news conference the suit will focus on the business practices in Home Depot's Western region - an area of nearly 100 stores in California, Oregon, New Mexico, Utah, Washington, Nevada and Arizona.

Attorney Elizabeth Cabraser said the suit could eventually be expanded to cover all 260 Home Depot stores in 23 states.

The attorneys said they have not held any discussions with Home Depot. The company also failed to return telephone calls.

"We have not talked to them, but they know our phone number," Goldstein said. "We are open to talking with the company."

At the news conference, the plaintiffs each told of their frustration working within a system where they believed they could not advance because they were women.

Jackie Genero, who still is on the staff of Home Depot's Colma store, was voted employee of the year - the first time a woman had won the honor at the store - by her co-workers in 1993. However, management asked for a recount and then reneged on paying a $500 bonus that had been given to male winners in the past.

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She said she also made $8 a hour while two male co-workers in her department were paid $16 and $19 an hour for the same job.

Vicki Butler, a current employee in Sacramento, said despite her degree from the University of California-Davis in plant science, she was passed up for a manager's job in the garden department and the position was given to a male with little experience handling plants.

"Home Depot's discriminatory practices are widespread," attorney Cabraser said. "Home Depot advertises that `good things happen when it comes to town,' but those good things don't include providing a work environment where women enjoy equal treatment and opportunities."

The two law firms representing the plaintiffs are San Francisco-based Lieff, Cabraser & Heimann and Oakland-based Saperstein, Mayeda & Goldstein. The San Francisco firm recently won a $4.25 billion silicone gel breast implant settlement and the $5.26 billion Valdez oil spill litigation; the other firm won a $250 million sexual discrimination case against State Farm Insurance Co. and $107 million from Lucky Stores Inc.

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