Judge Revives Class in Minor League Baseball Suit

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – A federal judge Tuesday revived a class action for Minor League baseball players who claim they were paid less than minimum wage.

Chief U.S. Magistrate Judge Joseph Spero partly granted a motion for reconsideration of his July 2016 ruling, which decertified a class of players suing 22 Major League teams.

Lead plaintiff Aaron Senne sued Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig and 30 Major League clubs in February 2014. Senne, who played for a Miami Marlins farm team in Jamestown, New York, said Minor Leaguers earn a meager $3,000 to $7,500 per season and are not paid overtime or compensated for off-season work, including spring training.

Spero dismissed eight Major League clubs from the suit for lack of jurisdiction. In July 2016, he granted a motion to decertify the class, finding that variations in players’ work activities made class certification impractical.

But the discovery of new evidence coupled with a decision to drop some claims for unpaid wages persuaded Spero to reconsider.

One factor that swayed the judge was the decision to abandon claims for unpaid winter conditioning work. Pursuing those claims as a class was problematic, Spero said, because in some cases the work was performed in multiple states years ago, was undocumented, and players were not likely to recall how much time they spent on specific activities.

Turning to tasks that some Minor Leaguers were paid for while others weren’t, Spero found that payroll records would allow “any variations in compensation to be analyzed without burdensome individualized inquiries.”

“This is especially true as to spring training, extended spring training and instructional league claims because players generally were not compensated for their participation in these activities and the small fraction of players who did receive compensation for these activities can be identified using payroll records maintained by defendants,” Spero wrote in his 69-page ruling.

Finding that the California Supreme Court established that the state has a strong interest in applying wage and hour laws for work performed in California by nonresidents, Spero certified a class of all Minor Leaguers who played in a California league, instructional league or extended spring training on or after Feb. 7, 2011.

However, Spero refused to certify proposed classes of Minor Leaguers who played or trained in Arizona and Florida, finding the plaintiffs failed to show Arizona and Florida had a strong interest in applying their labor laws over the laws of other states.

Spero also found a July 2016 survey of 720 players to estimate hours worked during spring training more reliable than a previously submitted study.

To eliminate self-interest bias in the newer survey, players were not informed of the purpose of the study. The new survey included more players who had not opted into the class, and it featured questions intended to jog players’ memory about spring training activities.

Additionally, plaintiffs’ expert Michael Dennis cross-checked those estimated hours with team schedules, finding a higher estimate of hours for spring training game days was likely because schedules did not include time players spent changing into uniforms or doing extra training work.

Spero rejected Major League Baseball’s request to strike the survey as evidence and exclude Dennis’ expert testimony.

He granted a motion to intervene in the lawsuit filed by four current Minor League baseball players, despite opposition by Major League Baseball. Spero found that including the claims of current Minor League players would serve the interest of judicial efficiency.

He set a case management conference for May 12.

Class attorney Bruce Simon and Major League Baseball attorney Elise Bloom did not return phone calls seeking comment Wednesday afternoon.

Simon is with Pearson Simon & Warshaw in San Francisco, Bloom with Proskauer Rose in New York City.

A bill was introduced in the House of Representatives last year stating that Minor League baseball players are not entitled to minimum wage and overtime pay. The “Save America’s Pastime Act” died in committee.

Major League Baseball supported the legislation in a statement, saying “being a Minor League Baseball player is not a career but a short-term seasonal apprenticeship in which the player either advances to the Major Leagues or pursues another career.”

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