Today’s Supreme Court decision in favor of Wal-Mart will make it much more difficult for women to sue large companies for sex discrimination. In a 5-4 vote, the court said workers must show common elements among millions of employment decisions in order to proceed with a large class-action suit.

“First we have the government deciding that certain financial interests are too big to fail. Now we have the majority of the Supreme Court ruling that large employers are too big to sue concerning systematic employment discrimination,” said Feminist Majority Foundation President Eleanor Smeal. “Without the ability to take effective class action lawsuits, women and minorities lose a major pillar in the fight to eliminate employment discrimination.”

The court’s five Republican-appointed justices ruled in favor of Wal-Mart, while the four justices appointed by Democrats – including three women – sided with the employees. More than 20 large corporations supported Wal-Mart in the case, including Intel Corporation, Altria Group Inc., Bank of America Corporation, Microsoft Corporation, and General Electric Corporation. Organizations fighting for women’s rights, human rights, and civil rights backed the workers.

The initial lawsuit was filed in 2001 by Betty Dukes, a former Wal-Mart employee, and six other women. They allege Wal-Mart systematically paid and promoted women employees less. They were seeking what could have been billions of dollars in punitive damages and back pay for all female employees of the big-box chain since 1998.