How Will Court Ruling Affect Current MiLB Players?
The class action lawsuit that has seen minor league players push for unpaid wages reached a significant milestone with the March 15 unsealing of U.S. District Court chief magistrate judge Joseph C. Spero’s ruling that finds MLB is liable for unpaid wages for minor league players who participated in spring training, extended spring training and instructional league.
The case itself is set to go to a jury trial on June 1, although it is possible there could be a settlement before then—something that was noted in the attorney’s arguments before Judge Spero.
But this week’s ruling leads to another, more direct question: Now that a judge has ruled that MLB is liable for paying the back wages of minor leaguers who weren’t paid, what does that mean going forward for current minor leaguers?
Beginning in 2020, MLB did mandate that all teams must pay players who are participating in instructional league. But currently there is no mandate that teams must pay minor league players during spring training.
And that could be tricky legally for MLB going forward.
In Arizona and Florida, minor league players are currently participating in spring training without being paid. Until this week, that was a subject of legal dispute. Now, a federal court has attempted to offer clarity.
In its arguments before the court, MLB’s attorneys argued that the plaintiffs had not proven that violations (if they occurred) were willful. They argued: “Plaintiffs must proffer undisputed material facts which demonstrate that Defendants knew that they were acting in violation of the law, or showed reckless disregard for the matter, as opposed to having acted negligently or unreasonably.”
The judge offered a summary judgment, ruling that minor league players participating in spring training in Arizona are employees and do perform work that requires compensation. But the court’s ruling left it to the June 1 jury trial to decide the legal question of whether it was a willful disregard or a negligent one.
Before this week’s ruling, MLB was arguing that these were training sessions for which minor league players did not need to be paid. But now that the court has ruled that these are employees and that spring training activities are work, it would appear to make that argument a more complicated one going forward since the court has offered a clear ruling on the matter.
Similarly, the court ruled that MLB has failed to keep proper wage records as required by Arizona state law. While that ruling is looking backwards, MLB would run the risk of further violations if it does not change its practices going forward.
Baseball America has reached out to MLB asking if it intends to change any guidance to teams as to whether to pay players for the spring training that is going on at this moment. As of yet, we have not heard a response.
The Advocates for Minor Leaguers Player Steering Committee called on MLB to begin paying players immediately for spring training in a statement:
"Yesterday a federal court ruled that minor league baseball players are employees who perform work during spring training. Today we call on every MLB team to begin paying us for spring training immediately."