Plaintiff Bretta Karp, who has worked at CIGNA Healthcare, Inc., since 1997, filed a putative federal class action against the company on March 3.

The complaint alleges that CIGNA has engaged in discriminatory evaluation and promotion practices in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Massachusetts state law.

Karp claims that her performance was consistently recognized as outstanding since her initial employment: She won two CIGNA awards in 2006: the National Leadership Award for the New Hampshire and Vermont markets and the Top Facility Contracting Award for the Vermont market.

In addition, her annual performance reviews contained statements such as “Bretta is ready for higher level promotions” and that she was “ready to progress to the next level of management.”

However, in July 2010, Karp interviewed for a provider contracting director position. She claims a senior director told her he thought she was highly qualified, but the choice “may come down to a style thing.” In August, she was told she did not get the promotion because she “came across as too aggressive” in the interviews. The position ultimately went to a less-experienced male employee who had been with CIGNA for two years.

The law firm that filed Karp’s action, Sanford Wittels & Heisler, also represented female employees of the Swiss pharmaceutical firm Novartis in a class action that settled for $175 million last year. And, in January, the firm filed a lawsuit in federal court in New York on behalf of a senior human resources manager at Toshiba Corp., seeking $100 million from a U.S. unit of the Japanese firm for alleged gender bias against women in pay and promotions.

Karp is seeking more than $100 million in damages.