In possibly a legal first, a female civil servant on Tuesday sued the government over what she calls institutional sexism at the ministry she works for, citing almost two decades of blocked promotions and pay raises.

It is thought to be the first time a current government official has initiated a lawsuit for gender-based discrimination and maltreatment, her lead lawyer, Masao Shintaku, told reporters.

The case is likely to embarrass Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who has repeatedly characterized women as a key to economic growth and has trumpeted his administration's commitment to empowering women in the workplace.