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CINCINNATI --Five African-American employees of The Kroger Co. sued the convenience store and supermarket giant, claiming they were systematically denied promotions because of their race. The lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court alleges that racial discrimination "is Kroger's standard operating procedure rather than a sporadic occurrence," the Associated Press reported."Kroger has a strong record of hiring and promoting minorities, and we have a long-standing commitment to workplace diversity and equal opportunity for all," said Kroger spokesman Gary Rhodes. The plaintiffs, who are from Kentucky, Tennessee and Alabama, want their lawsuit broadened into a class action. It would cover African Americans who worked for Kroger at any time since October 1998 and allegedly were subjected to discriminatory hiring and advancement policies. Potential plaintiffs would number in the thousands, the complaint said. The suit, which accuses Kroger of either denying, delaying or discouraging promotion of African Americans into supervisory and management positions, seeks to change Kroger's hiring, promotion and compensation practices, the report said. The plaintiffs also want back pay, preferential consideration for jobs and damages for lost pay and benefits. Kroger operates more than 800 convenience stores and 2,400 supermarkets in 32 states.