On Friday in San Francisco, the lawsuit brought by a group of minor leaguers took a small step forward in its efforts to sue Major League and Minor League Baseball for increased wages. Both parties appeared before U.S. Magistrate Judge Joseph Spero in district court to discuss the players’ continuing efforts to get their case re-certified as a class-action suit.
“Back in July, (Judge Spero) denied our efforts for it to continue to proceed as a class-action, meaning that we aren’t just representing the 40-plus names that are the basis of the complaint, but also all of the other similarly situated minor leaguers out there,” said Garrett Broshuis, a former minor league pitcher and a lawyer with the firm Korein Tillery, which is representing the players in this case. “After July, he basically gave us another chance. He decided to reconsider that July opinion. We re-submitted more briefings and more evidence, and we think we did so in a manner that answered his questions. We’re optimistic that we’re going to get re-certified as a class-action.”
No official action was taken on Friday, but Spero will continue to consider the players’ streamlined filing, which is limited only to players who spend the entirety of their seasons in a league that plays all of its games in one state. The players are seeking class-action status for the spring training, extended spring training and the instructional leagues, as well as the California League.
If successful, the players would then go forward with their effort to seek the enforcement of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) to cover minor leaguers in the same way it does others who work ordinary jobs with hourly wages. The result, then, would mean players’ wages would be determined by each state’s minimum-wage and overtime laws. For example, a player in the Florida State, Gulf Coast or Arizona League all season would be paid those states’ minimum wage of $8.05 per hour. A player in California all season would make its minimum of $10 per hour.
“The FLSA is the federal law that covers the entire United States. That sort of sets the base line,” Broshuis said. “We’re also seeking to apply the wage and hour laws as well, because a lot of times they’re more protective. So, for example, that’s why we have complaints under Arizona law and California law and Florida law, because teams have significant operations in those three states, and they need to be complying with those laws while they’re operating in those states.”
The rationale behind Judge Spero’s decision in July was that the players’ experiences were too different from one another to lump together in one suit. Players who played in the California League, for example, would have different experiences from those who played in the Gulf Coast League, and many of the players split time between different states and leagues throughout the course of year. One player might spend all year in one league while another bounces through two or three leagues during the six-month season.
Similarly, part of Judge Spero’s rationale behind not allowing the case to proceed as a class-action under its original parameters was because of the complexity of applying interstate laws. For example, if a player for a team based in New Jersey goes on a 10-day road trip to West Virginia, Georgia and North Carolina, it’s unclear whether his theoretical hourly salary would be calculated under his home state’s hourly wage and overtime laws or whether it would be calculated under the laws for each state in which he played.
“That’s a key issue,” Broshuis said, “which state law to apply in which situation.”
For now, the players and Minor League Baseball will continue to wait until Spero issues a ruling on the players’ latest motion. Once that happens, which is not likely until after the holidays, the sides will have a chance to appeal the decision. If not, the next will be summary judgment and eventually trial.