A group of women seeking certification of the class contend the retail giant practices systemic discrimination in employment against women, but the Supreme Court said any company should have the right to defend itself against individual allegations.
Walmart was pleased.
In a statement issued from the company's Bentonville, Ark., headquarters, Gizel Ruiz, Walmart U.S. executive vice president for people, said the Supreme Court acted correctly.
"We are pleased with today's ruling and believe the court made the right decision," the statement said. "Walmart has had strong policies against discrimination for many years. The court today unanimously rejected class certification and, as the majority made clear, the plaintiffs' claims were worlds away from showing a companywide discriminatory pay and promotion policy.
"By reversing the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals decision" to certify the class, "the majority effectively ends this class action lawsuit," the statement said.
"Walmart has a long history of providing advancement opportunities for our female associates and will continue its efforts to build a robust pipeline of future female leaders."
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce supported Walmart during the litigation, filing two friend-of-the-court briefs.
In a statement issued Monday in Washington, Robin Conrad, executive vice president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's National Chamber Litigation Center, said:
"This is without a doubt the most important class action case in more than a decade. We applaud the Supreme Court for affirming that mega-class actions such as this one are completely inconsistent with federal law. Every single Supreme Court justice disagreed with the Ninth Circuit's decision, which radically lowered the standard for certifying class actions, and opened the door to even more bet-the-business blockbuster class actions.
"Today's ruling reinforces a fundamental principle of fairness in our court systems: that defendants should have the opportunity to present individualized evidence to show they complied with the law," the statement said. "Too often the class action device is twisted and abused to force businesses to choose between settling meritless lawsuits or potentially facing financial ruin. Our economy would be better served if businesses could spend more resources creating jobs and fewer resources fighting frivolous litigation."
In contrast, blogger John Nichols had this take on the Web site of The Nation magazine.
"Now, the U.S. Supreme Court has created a new protected class: The 'Too Big for Justice' corporations," Nichols said.
"The high court on Monday rejected a massive job discrimination lawsuit against [Walmart] on the grounds that the class-action status that could potentially involve hundreds of thousands of current and former female workers was too large," Nichols said.
"In other words, because there is reason to believe that Walmart discriminated against hundreds of thousands of women, as opposed to just a few, the company cannot be held to account for any lawlessness.
"That's a big win for Walmart and for other large firms that may not choose to treat employees fairly. At the same time, it's a big loss for working Americans -- and especially for working women."
The National Organization for Women issued its own statement in Washington.
"The brave women, led by Betty Dukes, who stood up to Walmart at great personal sacrifice, are told simply they're on their own" by the ruling, the statement said.
"With this decision, the Supreme Court has assisted Walmart in its efforts to systematically dole out promotions and pay raises on the basis of sex. The law calls that illegal discrimination, but this court has turned its back on the more than million women who only sought simple justice," NOW President Terry O'Neill said in the statement. "The women of Walmart deserve respect and fair treatment and we will continue to stand up for their rights."
NOW labeled Walmart a "Merchant of Shame" in 2002 as part of its Women-Friendly Workplace Campaign. NOW said its chapters "have led countless community demonstrations at Walmart stores around the country to educate shoppers about the company's exploitation of its women employees.
"Today, NOW demands an immediate legislative response to help the women of Walmart," the statement said. "We call on Congress to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act, which would provide more effective remedies to victims of sex-based wage discrimination. This bill passed in the House in January 2009, but ultimately was defeated in the Senate."
"The gap between women's and men's pay is still sizable, which is why it's so important to get this legislation passed," O'Neill said.
NOW also called on Walmart "to end its unconscionable resistance to employees' efforts to form unions and bargain collectively over pay, benefits and other conditions of employment."