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Judge Rules Major League Baseball in Violation of Wage Laws for some Minor Leaguers

U.S. District Judge Joseph C. Spero recently ruled Major League Baseball violated Arizona state minimum wage law when it was decided minor league baseball players are year-round employees who work during training time, not just when they are playing games.  Spero also ruled these players should be paid for travel time to road games, and for practices in Arizona and Florida.

Spero wrote, “these are not students who have enrolled in a vocational school with the understanding that they would perform services, without compensation, as part of the practical training necessary to compete the training and obtain a license.”

After the decision was handed down, advocates for the minor league players read from a statement, “For decades, minor league players have worked long hours year-round in exchange for poverty-level wages.  Working as a professional baseball player requires far more than just playing baseball games. It also requires hours of year-round training, practice, and preparation, for which we have never been properly compensated.”

The case in question was first filed in 2009 by three lower round draft picks who never made it to the major leagues: Aaron Senne, Michael Liberto and Oliver Odle.  These individuals claimed MLB violated the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (the “FLSA”) and state minimum wage and overtime laws for its failure to properly compensate them for a workweek they estimated at 50-to-60 hours.

In his ruling last month, Spero declared MLB is a joint employer with the teams that employ minor leaguers.  He went further to rule the players performed “work” during spring training and the travel time the players had to endure on team buses to away games was compensable under FLSA, and California and Arizona law.

The MLB had no immediate comment on the decision.

Sounds like good news for all minor leaguers, right?   Is this a major step towards holding the MLB accountable for its longstanding practice of treating players relegated to the minor leagues poorly?  Not so fast.  Perhaps as a result of this lawsuit being filed, back in 2012 MLB owners began to put a great deal of pressure on Congress to create a carve out from the FLSA for minor league players.  As a result of this pressure, Congress in March of 2018 enacted the Save America’s Pastime Act (the “Act”).  The Act amended the FLSA to exempt all baseball players from federal minimum wage and overtime requirements.  As a result of the Act’s passage, any claim for similar acts after the March 2018 enactment are barred.

Based on the Act, last week’s decision will have limited impact on future minor leaguers and how they are paid by MLB.  However, there are a lot of other minor league sports players who have common experiences to minor league baseball players.  As a result, this decision is likely to get them better treatment from their employers.

Brody and Associates regularly advises management on complying with the latest state and federal employment laws.  If we can be of assistance in this area, please contact us at info@brodyandassociates.com or 203.454.0560.