Minor Leaguers’ Labor|Class Action Unravels

     SAN FRANCISCO (CN) — Finding too many variations among players’ work situations and pay, a federal judge decertified a Fair Labor Standards Act collective of minor league ballplayers and refused to grant their motion for class certification.
     In his 100-page order, U.S. Magistrate Judge Joseph Spero wrote that adjudicating the case on a collective basis would be unmanageable.
     “Class members can demonstrate minimum wage and overtime violations only by demonstrating that their rate of pay fell below the minimum wage rate and that they worked the requisite hours to be entitled to overtime pay, both of which will turn on the number of hours of compensable work they performed and the amount of compensation they received for that work,” Spero said. “The court concludes that the individualized issues that will arise in connection with adjudicating these questions will be extensive and will make class-wide treatment of plaintiffs’ claims virtually impossible.”
     Former Miami Marlins player Aaron Senne sued Major League Baseball, its commissioner Bud Selig, and three major league clubs in February 2014. Michael Liberto, who played for the Royals’ Minor League team in those years and former Giants player Oliver Odle, who played for the Giants franchise from 2007 to 2011, joined Senne in the suit.
     The minor league players claimed they were paid less than minimum wage, earning $3,000-$7,500 a year despite working 50-70 hours a week and training year-round.
     All 30 MLB franchises were eventually added to the lawsuit along with additional players, who sought to certify classes in Arizona, California, Florida, North Carolina, New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland and Oregon consisting “of all persons who under a Minor League Uniform Player Contract, work or worked for MLB or any MLB franchise as a minor league baseball player within the relevant state at any time during the statutory period for each state.”
     In May 2015, Spero dismissed eight teams for lack of personal jurisdiction, leaving 22 Major League clubs as defendants.
     Spero also conditionally certified the players’ FLSA collective in October 2015.
     On Thursday, he revoked that order, saying there appear to be “wide variations” in the types of activities the minor league players engaged in that constitute “work,” specifically in the off season.
     “The difficulties associated with determining what activities constitute ‘work’ in the context of winter training are compounded by the fact that there appear to be no official records documenting these activities. Because it may be impossible to determine from official records the types of conditioning activities in which the players engaged, membership in the state classes based on winter training would depend largely upon the players’ ability to remember, with a reasonable amount of detail, what they did during the off-season (often for multiple years and for many, several years in the past) to stay fit,” Spero wrote, adding that he has “grave doubts” as to the players’ ability to remember their activities in detail.
     Spero also found players’ other off-season activities like spring training, mini-camps and instructional leagues also varied widely, and were dependent on the priorities of each team and manager along with the players’ own goals and preferences.
     “Under these circumstances, the court would have to conduct a multitude of individualized inquiries relating to the types of activities that might have constituted ‘work’ and the circumstances necessary to make these activities compensable under the relevant states’ law,” he wrote.
     “While the court finds that many of the issues raised in this case (including issues relating to defenses) may be addressed on a class-wide basis, the collective members are not similarly situated. Rather, the disparate factual and employment settings of the class members make collective adjudication of plaintiffs’ FLSA claims unmanageable and potentially unfair to defendants. Most significantly, the court finds that there are wide variations among the players as to the types of activities in which they engaged and the circumstances under which they engaged in them, which will give rise to a plethora of individualized inquiries relating to the determination of the amount of compensable work plaintiffs performed.”
     Attorneys for the players and the teams did not immediately respond to email requests for comment.

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