"Under today's ruling -- the way we read it -- no class can be certified in this case. The court found that there was no issue common to the class," said Theodore J. Boutrous Jr. of Gibson, Dunn and Crutcher.
He said that the decision will be "very helpful in bringing back sanity to class action law."
But lawyers for the women vowed to fight on.
"I don't think it closes the door entirely, but it is going to raise the hurdle significantly to bring these kinds of cases," said Joseph Sellers of Cohen Milstein, who argued the case in court on behalf of the female employees.
Another lawyer, Brad Seligman, said that the team would study the opinion to see if there is a way to go back to the lower court and reformulate the class into smaller class sizes to go forward.
"The Supreme Court has not ruled that Wal-Mart did not discriminate," Seligman said. "We are examining a range of possibilities. The most important thing, we want women of Wal-Mart to know is that there are avenues to go forward, including claims with the Equal Opportunity Commission and filing individualized claims."
Betty Dukes, one of the original plaintiffs, said she was disappointed but undaunted.
"We still are determined to go forward and present our case in court and I believe we will prevail there," she said.
Marcia Greenberger of the National Women's Law center called the ruling the "worst case scenario." She said that while the lawyers involved in the Wal-Mart case might find a way to keep their case moving forward, "other women across the country -- not covered by this case -- are left with far fewer rights and many more hurdles today than they had yesterday."
The five male justices made it much harder for individuals to come together and bring a case because the Court raised the level of proof, requiring more examples of discrimination, she said.
But Robin Conrad, the executive vice president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's National Chamber Litigation Center, disagreed, saying the decision is "without a doubt the most important class action case in more than a decade" because it will help protect businesses from frivolous lawsuits.
"Too often the class action device is twisted and abused to force businesses to choose between settling meritless lawsuits or potentially facing financial ruin," she wrote. "Our economy would be better served if businesses could spend more resources creating jobs and fewer resources fighting frivolous litigation."