The U.S. Supreme Court ruled Monday that a sweeping gender-discrimination lawsuit against Wal-Mart Stores Inc. can't proceed as one large class action.
The court, in an opinion by justice Antonin Scalia, found several problems with the lawsuit. Among them, Scalia said the plaintiffs didn't have enough in common to pool all of their claims into a single case.
The court's four other conservative justices joined all of Scalia's 27-page opinion.
The court's four liberal members joined parts of Scalia's opinion but dissented from other parts of the court's holding.
The ruling is a significant victory for Wal-Mart and other leading corporations, which argued the plaintiffs were seeking an unprecedented expansion of class actions, which allow plaintiffs to pool their individual claims into one big suit.
Six women filed the suit on behalf of current and former Wal-Mart employees, alleging the company paid female workers significantly less than their male counterparts and offered them fewer opportunities for advancement.
The case, which dates back to 2001, involved claims that could have amounted to billions of dollars.
The plaintiffs were seeking back pay, punitive damages and changes to how Wal-Mart makes its pay and promotion decisions. They conceded their class action was a large one, but said that was to be expected because Wal-Mart is the nation's largest corporate employer.
The plaintiffs alleged that Wal-Mart's corporate culture and employment polices fostered gender stereotyping and led to adverse treatment of women in all of the retailer's 41 domestic regions. They charged that Wal-Mart lagged far behind its competitors in its promotion of women and knew of discrimination against its female employees but failed to act.
Wal-Mart said it is an excellent place for women to work, with policies that prohibit discrimination. The retailer said the case should not be granted class-action status because the plaintiffs' claims are too varied to proceed together, making it difficult for the company to mount a defense in a single case.
The case is Wal-Mart v. Dukes, 10-277.
Brent Kendall is a reporter for Dow Jones Newswires, where this story originally appeared. Write to him here.