Minor League Players Move Pay Lawsuit Forward

By narrowing their scope, a group of former minor league players on Wednesday advanced their lawsuit against Major League Baseball.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Joseph Spero recertified Senne v. Office of the Commissioner of Baseball as a class action, amending a July decision that had ruled that minor league players’ experiences were too broad to be appropriate for a class-action suit.

At that time, Spero decertified the class under federal law and denied the minor leaguers’ request to process as a class action under several state laws as well. When making his original decision, however, Spero noted that there was room for him to reconsider if the players limited their claim to those players whose experiences were most similar.

In response, the suit was narrowed to players who played at least seven days in either California, Florida or Arizona. The certified collective under the new decision will be “any person who, while signed to a Minor League Uniform Player Contract, participated in the California League, or in spring training, instructional league, or extended spring training, on or after Feb. 7, 2011, and who had not signed a Major League Uniform Player Contract before then.”

“After reviewing more evidence and hearing more arguments, Judge Spero’s order re-certified a narrower class under federal and California law,” the St. Louis law firm Korein-Tillery wrote in a release following the decision. The lawyers from Korein-Tillery, which is representing the plaintiffs along with lawyers from Pearson, Simon & Warshaw, include former minor league pitcher Garrett Broshuis.

Major League Baseball declined comment on the decision, via the Associated Press.

Ultimately, the players’ suit seeks to raise salaries for minor league baseball players by having minor leaguers included under the Fair Labor Standards Act, which establishes minimum wage and overtime rules for workers around the country. Because at present the players aren’t considered full-time employees by their clubs—Minor League Baseball has compared them on numerous occasions to interns or apprentices—they aren’t covered under the FLSA.

The suit notes that minor league salaries have risen just 75 percent since 1976, while inflation over the same time period has been 400 percent. Moreover, the average major league salary has grown by 2,000 percent during the same time period. Minor leaguers are also paid during the regular season only, which means they are not paid for spring training, instructional league in the fall, and the offseason.

To put that in perspective, Phillies prospect Dylan Cozens, who won Minor League Baseball’s Joe Bauman Award for leading the minors with 40 home runs last season, joked when he accepted the award that the $8,000 prize that came with the award was more than his salary for the entire season.

In anticipation of further action in this suit and for other lawsuits or legislation that may arise in the coming years, Minor League Baseball announced at December’s Winter Meetings that it was forming a Political Action Committee.

The next step for the suit is for the players and MLB to come up with a schedule for how the rest of the case will proceed. They must present their proposed schedule to Spero by April 28.

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