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MiLB Player Wages Class Action Suit is Back

Major League Baseball logoA class-action lawsuit seeking back wages and higher pay for Minor League Baseball players is back, after a U.S. federal judge approved the appeal of his earlier decision to decertify the class action.

Lead plaintiff and former Miami Marlins farmhand Aaron Senne had sued Major League Baseball and its 30 teams, arguing that he and thousands of other former minor leaguers were paid less than the minimum wage, seeking to certify his lawsuit as a class action. In July 2016, U.S. Magistrate Judge Joseph Spero decertified the lawsuit against Major League Baseball as a class action. Citing the nonuniform standards applied to players for offseason workouts–for which they are not compensated–Spero stated that a class action suit could not apply to this case, because such activity cannot be broadly regulated and monitored through federal and state wage laws. In other motions he removed eight MLB teams from the action, leaving 22 teams in the suit. At the end of 2016 he did allow for an appeal of his decision.

On Tuesday Spero moved ahead and certified the lawsuit as class action after some claims were dropped and new evidence submitted, but in the process narrowed the scope of the proceedings as well. Because of California’s labor laws, the focus is now on players who participated in a California league, instructional league or extended spring training; players in Florida and Arizona were excluded from the proceedings, which does narrow the scope of the lawsuit considerably. From Courthouse News Service:

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.

Despite the presence of minor leaguers in the lawsuit, Minor League Baseball is not a party in the proceedings. However, any changes to player wages would inevitably cause ripples in MiLB, with MLB teams probably looking to recoup any additional player costs from their affiliates. And with 2020 approaching, the economics of the game could be altered by what is decided by Spero.

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