Having Once Struck Out, Minor League Players Finally Get to First BaseBy Gordon Gibb
According to court documents, minor league baseball players filed what was proposed as a class action wage and hour lawsuit in February, 2014. The lawsuit was filed in California. Plaintiffs asserted that minor league players, in deference to the overall wealth of teams and Major League Baseball (MLB) overall, were paid earnings that fell below minimum wage. Plaintiffs alleged that some minor league baseball players earned as little as $1,100 per month during the baseball season, in spite of working upwards of 50 hours in a week. Not only is such a stipend well below minimum wage requirements, it is alleged that no overtime pay was forthcoming for those extra hours in the week, either.
The proposed wage and hour class action was conditionally certified under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) in October, 2015 and no fewer than 2,200 minor league players joined the lawsuit.
However, the momentum didn’t last when the federal judge assigned to the case, US Magistrate Judge Joseph C. Spero of the US District Court for the Northern District of California, decertified the collective and declined the players’ motion for full certification on grounds that individual experiences by the athletes lacked sufficient commonality to warrant a class. A survey undertaken to estimate the number of hours worked by the proposed class members, was found to be flawed.
That was in July of last year. Undaunted, the players went back to work and, in spite of this occurring in the middle of the baseball season, revised their claim by trimming away physical conditioning that took place during the winter months outside of spring training and the regular season. What complicated the issue was the fact that players, over the winter months, were not required to maintain their conditioning at facilities under the auspices of Major League Baseball, and thus their efforts were not diligently tracked as they would during spring training and the regular season, in facilities within the purview of MLB.
Plaintiffs re-filed their proposed wage and hour lawsuit as a class action in September of last year, and that change allowed Judge Spero to certify the class, in part. “In dropping these claims, they have significantly reduced the variations that led the court to conclude that plaintiffs were attempting to stretch the holding of Tyson Foods too far,” Judge Spero wrote, in reference to the US Supreme Court’s ruling in Tyson Foods v. Bouaphakeo, which held that workers can’t be punished in litigation due to the inability on the part of the employer to keep proper time records. With the initial filing, the judge determined that positions taken by the plaintiffs failed to align with precedents stemming from Tyson v. Bouaphakeo, and thus he couldn’t allow it.
However with revisions, the subsequent filing satisfied, and resolved the legal hurdles. “The remaining variations are not so significant as to preclude a jury from addressing plaintiffs’ claims on a classwide basis,” Judge Spero opined.
Plaintiffs had tightened their bid for class action status to include just three states – Arizona, Florida and California. In the end, Judge Spero found that including the Arizona and Florida classes was problematic given specific provisions of state law, in those two states, that raised different questions for the players involved.
In the end, Judge Spero granted preliminary certification of the wage and hour class action for the state of California. The order covers anyone who participated in California League, spring training, instructional leagues, or extended spring training from February 7, 2011 and who hadn't signed a Major League contract prior to that date.