Washington - The Supreme Court today rejected a 10-year-old class action sex-discrimination suit against Walmart brought on behalf of 1.6 million female employees.
Writing for the conservative majority, Justice Antonin Scalia argued that it would be impossible to determine in a single case whether each woman was the victim of discrimination, especially since hires and promotions are determined by regional and store managers.
He added that statistical evidence presented by the plaintiffs "falls well short" of showing a corporate policy of bias.
A minority led by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg agreed that class action status was inappropriate for this type of case, but said evidence does suggest that a culture of gender bias existed at the company.
The decision overturns a ruling by a California appeals court that allowed the suit to proceed over Walmart's objections.
The case, Wal-Mart v. Dukes, was originally filed 10 years ago by Walmart worker Betty Dukes and five female colleagues who claimed they were passed over for promotions and paid less than male employees. The suit was the largest sex-discrimination case in history and could have cost Walmart billions of dollars in back pay, while opening the door to similar litigation at other large corporations.
The plaintiffs could still pursue Walmart through smaller class actions.
In a statement, Walmart U.S. executive VP Gisel Ruiz said, "We are pleased with today's ruling and believe the Court made the right decision ... 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. 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."