SCOTUS Declines To Hear MLB's Appeal On Ruling Of MiLB Pay Lawsuit
On Monday, Oct. 5, the Supreme Court declined to hear Major League Baseball’s appeal of the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals' ruling that granted class action status to minor league players who allege they were paid less than minimum wage.
The ruling is in many ways only an initial step for the lawsuit. The current legal decisions have revolved around whether the suit could have class action status, not about the merits of the case, which are yet to be heard. The actual lawsuit itself is only just beginning.
But by granting class action status, the potential impact of the suit, led by attorney and former minor league pitcher Garrett Broshuis, becomes quite significant. Without class action status, each and every player who wanted to sue, arguing that MLB failed to meet minimum wage requirements, would have to do so individually. With the courts approving class action status, a single lawsuit will represent any and all eligible players who do not opt out.
“It’s an important step in our case. Across the board, MLB has these policies it is subjecting these players to. Every player has to go to spring training to work seven days a week with no pay," Broshuis said. "MLB has decided not to comply with the minimum wage laws that McDonald’s and Walmart have met. We look forward to prosecuting the rest of the case and making sure the players benefit from the minimum wage laws they deserve.”
Major League Baseball said in a statement: "While Major League Baseball does not comment on ongoing litigation, MLB remains focused on modernizing its player development system to enhance the Minor League experience for players, including providing them with renovated facilities, reduced travel and improved daily working conditions. MLB has long planned to increase Minor League player salaries as part of our next agreement with Minor League clubs, and announced earlier this year that Minor League players would be receiving salary increases ranging from 38 percent to 72 percent for the 2021 season."
Twenty-nine former minor leaguers are named as parties to the suit, but the class action status means that it will likely include thousands of players. It potentially includes almost every affiliated minor league baseball player of the past decade. With more than 6,000 players participating in minor league baseball in a normal year, the number of eligible players could measure in tens of thousands.
According to the Ninth Circuit Court’s ruling, the Florida and Arizona classes (for class action status) were defined as including “[a]ny person who, while signed to a Minor League Uniform Player Contract, participated in spring training, instructional leagues, or extended spring training in [Florida or Arizona] on or after Feb. 7, 2009, and had not signed a Major League Uniform Player Contract before then.”
The California class was defined as “[a]ny person who, while signed to a Minor League Uniform Player Contract, participated in the California League on or after February 7, 2010, and had not signed a Major League Uniform Player Contract before then.”
Since every player who participates in minor league baseball in the U.S. attends spring training in Arizona or Florida, it’s hard to find many minor leaguers who will not qualify to be a party in this lawsuit.
The lawsuit contends that MLB teams have failed to meet minimum wage standards for players for years. Teams have traditionally not paid salaries for players during spring training, extended spring and instructional league.
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The circuit court’s ruling noted that 11 of the 21,211 players who participated in spring training from 2009 to 2015 were paid a salary. Similarly, a small number of players have been paid to participate in extended spring training, but the vast majority have not.
In addition to that, the suit also contends that teams have failed to meet state minimum wage standards for players in-season who participated in the California League.
In its defense in the case, MLB’s attorneys argued that spring training, extended spring training and instructional league are not necessarily mandatory for minor league players to attend, although the Circuit Court’s ruling notes that the Universal Player Contract that players sign to become minor league players notes that the contract “obligates Player[s] to perform professional services on a calendar year basis, regardless of the fact that salary payments are to be made only during the actual championship playing season.”
The Save America’s Pastime act, which was passed by Congress and signed into law in 2018, exempts minor league players from the protections of the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, which offered protections for overtime pay and minimum wage. But unlike the failed bill that was proposed in 2016, the 2018 law did not add retroactive protections for MLB, meaning that violations before that date could still be subject to lawsuit.
The Save America’s Pastime Act also does not necessarily supersede state minimum wage laws, which means the lawsuit could attempt to find teams in violation of state minimum wage laws, which in California and Arizona are higher than the federal provisions.
It has taken six years for this case to reach this point. It likely will take a while longer to continue to work through the courts, although this most recent ruling could potentially lead the sides to work toward a settlement.