Home Depot Inc. systematically shunts women into dead-end jobs, pays them less than men and refuses training or promotions, according to a sex discrimination suit.

The action by two high-profile San Francisco Bay area firms potentially affects thousands of women in more than 100 stores in seven Western states, according to attorney Barry Goldstein.In the Colma store, co-workers elected Jacqueline Genero the first female "Employee of the Year" - but management denied her a $500 bonus given to men selected in previous years, she said.

With tears in her eyes, she ridiculed the $10 billion retail giant's "open door" policy to discuss such complaints.

"Every time I went to open that door, it was constantly slammed in my face," she said.

Genero is paid $8 an hour while men doing the same work receive $16 or more - and the orientation handbook specifically prohibits any talk of forming a union, she added.

Although the federal court suit doesn't specify monetary damages, Goldstein compared it to a $107 million settlement his firm reached in a similar action against Lucky Stores Inc.

Eight women are initially named as plaintiffs in the San Francisco lawsuit against the country's largest home-improvement chain.

But lawyers are confident that within six months it will be certified as a class action, opening it up to all employees in the store's western region, encompassing Arizona, California, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah and Washington.

The suit was confined to Atlanta-based Home Depot's western region because "that's a big enough case to handle," Goldstein said. The attorney said there was not a single woman store manager in the region until recently.

The company issued a statement Tuesday saying it takes the charges seriously and would conduct its own investigation with outside counsel. But Home Depot also said its record in hiring was exemplary.

"In an industry that has been traditionally male-dominated, The Home Depot has been credited with providing unprecedented career opportunities for women as well as minorities in building and home improvement products retailing," it said.

But the plaintiffs contend the pattern of marginalizing women employees was common.

Cheryl Williams, a black grandmother with experience in handling ceramics, said she was thought of so highly when she was hired she was asked to train two new young white employees for that department.

But as soon as she finished, she was called into the office and fired, and they took over her duties.

"They just want young, white managers," she said.

Home Depot operates 313 stores in 26 states and Canada.