Judge: Minor leaguers work year-round, MLB violated wage law

Chicago White Sox minor league players put baseballs back in the basket during batting practice at a minor league spring training workout Thursday, March 10, 2022, in Phoenix. Major League Baseballs acrimonious lockout ended Thursday when a divided players association voted to accept managements offer to salvage a 162-game season that will start April 7. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin) (Ross D. Franklin, Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

NEW YORK – A federal judge ruled that minor leaguers are year-round employees who work during training time and found Major League Baseball violated Arizona state minimum wage law and is liable for triple damages.

Chief Magistrate Judge Joseph C. Spero in San Francisco also ruled MLB did not comply with California wage statement requirements, awarding $1,882,650 in penalties.

Spero unsealed a 181-page ruling Tuesday night in a lawsuit filed eight years ago. He ruled minor leaguers should be paid for travel time to road games in the California League and to practice in Arizona and Florida.

“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,” Spero wrote.

In rejecting many of MLB’s motions for summary judgments, Spero allowed those claims to proceed to a trial scheduled for June 1.

He ruled for the players under Arizona state law, leaving only the amount of damages to be determined.

“For decades, minor league players have worked long hours year-round in exchange for poverty-level wages,” the steering committee of Advocates for Minor Leaguers said in a statement. “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.

"We are thrilled with today’s ruling, which is an enormous step toward holding MLB accountable for its longstanding mistreatment of minor league players.”

MLB said Wednesday it had no comment on Spero's decision.

The suit was filed by first baseman/outfielder Aaron Senne, a 10th-round pick of the Florida Marlins in 2009 who retired in 2013, and two other retired players who had been lower-round selections: Kansas City infielder Michael Liberto and San Francisco pitcher Oliver Odle.

They claimed violations of the federal Fair Labor Standards Act and state minimum wage and overtime requirements for a workweek they estimated at 50-to-60 hours.

Congress enacted the Save America’s Pastime Act in March 2018, which amended the FLSA to exempt baseball players from the statute’s minimum wage and overtime requirements.

Spero has presided over the case for years.

“The court has previously held that plaintiffs are employees rather than trainees,” he wrote.

The case was sent back to the District Court by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in 2019 after lawyers for the players and MLB spent years arguing whether it should receive class-action status.

Spero ruled that MLB is a joint employer with teams of minor league players; that those players perform “work” during spring training; that travel time on team buses to away games is compensable under FLSA, Florida and Arizona law and that travel time by California League players to away games is compensable under California law.

Spero also said federal law does not permit a defense under Florida state law claims. He dismissed claims after the new law in March 2018 and also dismissed claims against former baseball Commissioner Bud Selig, who was listed as a defendant in the original suit along with the 30 big league clubs.


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