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Kozmo expands service amid discrimination claims

The online convenience store is expanding its delivery service to include more minority communities.

Amid accusations that it does not offer its services in African-American neighborhoods, today said it is expanding its operations in four major U.S. cities. The expanded zones encompass several minority communities.

Kozmo, which announced its expansion plans Tuesday, listed ZIP codes but did not provide descriptions of the racial makeup of the communities.

However, in Washington, D.C., Kozmo, the Web's version of a 7-Eleven convenience store, has expanded into predominantly African-American neighborhoods such as Mt. Vernon Square and the community around Howard University, one of the United States' historically African-American colleges.

In Los Angeles, the New York-based company has moved into the city's large Latino communities, such as Silver Lake and Lincoln Heights, and the predominantly Asian-American community of Alhambra.

Kozmo was accused of discrimination in a lawsuit filed in federal court by two Washington, D.C., residents and a District of Columbia-based civil rights group.

The suit alleged that Kozmo violated federal anti-discrimination laws by excluding service to predominantly African-American communities in the district. The company denied the charges.

On Friday, a federal judge dismissed the suit after the plaintiffs were unable to meet a court deadline. Yesterday, Andrew Marks, the lawyer for the plaintiffs, told CNET that he was preparing to file an almost identical suit in state court this week.

Asked why Kozmo chose to move forward with its expansion plans amid the discrimination allegations, spokesman Matt Higgins said, "We would have expanded into those areas sooner as part of our regular course of business were it not for the pending, and now dismissed, litigation.

"We start in areas with the greatest Internet penetration," Higgins said. "When we have the available capacity, we look to expand into neighboring communities."

Higgins pointed out that Kozmo has long served diverse communities, such as New York's Harlem neighborhood.

The company also said it has moved further into Chicago and will begin its expansion in Portland, Ore., on Monday.