An exterior of a Walmart store

An exterior of a Walmart store Credit: AP

It's vital that American workers can use the legal system to purge the workplace of discrimination, which has held back women and minorities for too long. But that doesn't mean every discrimination case should go forward.

Case in point: a 10-year-old lawsuit against Wal-Mart by up to 1.6 million women who claimed they were paid and promoted less than men. The U.S. Supreme Court last week ruled against the plaintiffs, and despite the general persistence of prejudice against women on the job, this particular ruling made sense.

The court ruled 5-4 that the class of workers was too broad. It pointed to the absence of any nationwide policies or practices at Wal-Mart that were detrimental to women -- and the prospect of a judgment that might have forced the company to pay damages regardless of how much harm was suffered by each individual in the ostensible class.

The ruling doesn't mean that Wal-Mart is out of the woods. The plaintiffs -- all the women who've worked at the company's U.S. stores since 1998 -- can still pursue their claims in the courts. And they can still pursue class actions, although the classes will have to be smaller and more coherent.

In an era when class actions of all kinds, including some that seem designed only to generate legal fees, had proliferated, the court has made it harder to bring such cases. But it hasn't foreclosed them -- or the fight against discrimination.