Judge says minor league baseball players are MLB employees ahead of class action lawsuit

The recovery of back wages is also part of the class action.

Major League Baseball argued, in part, that minor league players are seasonal workers.

According to MLB, for example, the time spent on a bus to get to a game is not timed, and the efforts of the players are akin to those accomplished by “creative artists” or interns at a professional school. MLB believes it acts in a regulatory capacity, with the 30 clubs determining salaries and other job responsibilities.

Spero disagreed on many points.

His opinions will allow the minor leaguers to pursue the case in front of a jury — although Tuesday’s ruling may increase the possibility that MLB will try to settle before it goes to trial.

Major League Baseball was not immediately available for comment.

Spero wrote that minor leaguers “are ’employees’ under the FLSA [Fair Labor Standards Act] and relevant state laws throughout the calendar year; (2) that MLB is a joint employer under the FLSA and all relevant state laws; 3) that the plaintiffs performed “work” while training in Arizona and Florida. »

If the plaintiffs win, the financial ramifications are not known but could be significant.

Spero wrote that plaintiffs are entitled to $1.88 million in wage statement violations in a portion of their California claim. The numbers are not yet known for the claims made in Arizona, but the judge established liability in part of that claim, with damages that will be tripled.

The exact number of players in the lawsuit is not publicly available, but regarding the Arizona portion of the lawsuit, all minor leaguers who have played in the state since around 2011 would be eligible to receive damages. .

With minor league players not being paid during spring training, but with the judge now determining that they were working during spring training, the jury will have the opportunity to calculate the amount of pay the players missed.

The judge ruled that the Save America’s Pastime Act enacted by Congress in 2018 was not sufficient grounds for MLB to be exempt from at least state wage laws.

In October 2020, the United States Supreme Court denied MLB’s appeal to reconsider the case.

“We are pleased with the Court’s thorough and well-reasoned decision on summary judgment and very much look forward to presenting our case at trial,” plaintiffs’ attorney Stephen Tillery said.

The case has been pending since 2014.

“I didn’t find the decision particularly surprising, several of the defenses that MLB relied on were, in my view, long shots to success,” said Nathaniel Grow, associate professor of business law and ethics at Indiana University, in an email. “In particular, courts have traditionally held that major professional sports teams are year-round, not seasonal, operations in light of the substantial off-season attention and revenue they generate. So the odds of MLB prevailing on the seasonal employee exception have always been rather unlikely, in my opinion.

Warren Zola, executive director of the Boston College Chief Executive Club at the Carroll School of Management, wrote, “You can feel the tide turning to improve working conditions and rights for minor league players. These cases will likely put pressure on baseball to treat minor league players more fairly. It’s a flawed system since minor leaguers aren’t covered by the Curt Flood Act and therefore don’t have the ability to bring antitrust violations. However, they slowly found a way to put pressure on their employers through labor law.

The Minor League Lawyers Steering Committee expressed hope that the decision will lead to better terms for players.

“For decades, minor league players have worked long hours year-round in exchange for poverty wages,” the committee said in a statement. “Working as a professional baseball player requires much more than just playing baseball games. It also requires hours of training, practice and preparation throughout the year, for which we have never We’re thrilled with today’s decision, which is a huge step toward holding MLB accountable for its longstanding mistreatment of minor league players.

Michael Silverman can be contacted at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter: @MikeSilvermanBB.

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