SAN FRANCISCO (CN) - Major League Baseball clubs can't hide their Minor League game reports and schedules from players suing the teams for wages, a federal judge ruled Friday.
The discovery dispute is the latest wrangle in two consolidated class actions Minor League players filed against Commissioner of Baseball Bud Selig and 22 Major League clubs.
Under the Minor League Uniform Player Contract, players receive salary only during the season, though most players perform substantial work throughout the calendar year, the players say.
After dismissing eight teams for lack of jurisdiction in June 2015, U.S. Magistrate Judge Joseph Spero granted conditional class certification in October, for players to pursue claims against 22 Major League clubs.
On Friday, Spero rejected Major League Baseball's argument that game reports, showing work players did to prepare for games but weren't always paid for, contain confidential information with little evidentiary value.
MLB attorney Adam Lupion insisted that because game reports do not specify the time players spent performing certain game-related tasks, their value as evidence is insignificant.
Judge Spero rejected that. "It makes no sense to say these game reports have no probative value," he said during the Friday hearing.
"They certainly are a link in the chain. The activities that class members participated in are a piece of this case."
Spero granted the MLB clubs' request to interview two class members from each Minor League team, despite opposition from the players' attorneys.
Class attorney Bruce Simon said if MLB "hand-selects" class members to interview, it will use the opportunity "to send a message" to the rest of the potential class that "we'll drag you through a very gory process to make you rethink participating."
Of 14,850 potential class members who were mailed notifications of the lawsuit, 726 have opted into the class thus far, Simon said. The deadline to opt in ends Feb. 11.
MLB attorney Elise Bloom told the judge that MLB attorneys do not plan to interview class members until after the opt-in period ends, allaying fears that MLB will use the depositions to intimidate players into opting out.
Bloom said MLB attorneys do intend to conduct the interviews by March 4 - the deadline to file a motion for class decertification - because she thinks evidence obtained in interviews will support MLB's motion to decertify the class.
As for the players' request for game schedules from six clubs dismissed from the lawsuit, Bloom said retrieving those documents would be "a very onerous task."
Minor leaguers who played for the dismissed clubs stayed on as plaintiffs because they are still suing MLB as their primary employer.
"The game schedules are kept by multiple individuals - six to eight managers," Bloom said. "To collect that information going back to 2008 will require a substantial amount of manpower hours."
After Spero pressured class attorneys to strike a compromise on discovery, the players' attorneys agreed to limit their request to game schedules going back only two years.
Spero also ironed out a dispute over class attorneys' request to randomly observe player activities at ballparks and spring training to estimate the actual tasks and amount of time players spend working throughout the calendar year.
Spero said the observers should be given free rein to take notes, photos and video in public areas without being harassed by security guards.
Bloom asked that the players give teams a more specific timeframe, such as a specific week, when the observers will show up. Otherwise, she said, it may be difficult to coordinate with security because the guards could forget the arrangement to accommodate observers, months after the fact.
Spero denied Bloom's request, saying the need to coordinate effectively with security must be balanced against the interest of making sure the teams don't expect observers and change their routine because of it.
Spero ordered attorneys to meet, confer and negotiate on a host of other discovery issues and to work quickly on meeting deadlines before the June 13 discovery cutoff date.
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