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Minor League Baseball players and MLB Settle “Starvation” Wages Lawsuit

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Minor league players and Major League Baseball have reached a settlement in a minimum wage complaint going back eight years.

San Francisco, CAMinor league baseball players won’t have their day in court involving a minimum wage complaint that was filed eight years ago. The California labor trial was slated for June 1 in U.S. District Court in San Francisco.

The players reached a preliminary settlement with the commissioner’s office in a lawsuit filed back in 2014 by first baseman/outfielder Aaron Senne, who retired in 2013, and two other retired players: 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 work week they estimated at 50 to 60 hours. But the case Senne et al. v. Office of the Commissioner of Baseball et al., case number 3:14-cv-00608 languished. In 2019 it was sent back to the District Court by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals after lawyers for the players and MLB spent years debating whether it should receive class-action status.

MLB vs. Minor Leaguers

The MLB argued that minor leaguers are to remain unpaid in spring training, citing life skills gained. Further, lawyers representing defendants MLB took the argument a step further and claimed that minor league players don’t deserve to be paid during spring training because they are trainees.

Lawyers for the plaintiffs said—as reported by the Associated Press, “We are pleased to report that the parties have reached a settlement in principle in this over eight-year-old case, subject to court approval…We look forward to filing preliminary approval papers with the court and cannot comment further until then.”

Terms of the settlement were not immediately disclosed in filings submitted in the case, but one report suggested the sides were discussing a possible payment in the $200 million range in recent weeks.

The Judge Weighs In

At a pre-trial hearing in March, Chief Magistrate Judge Joseph C. Spero sided with plaintiffs. He wrote that minor leaguers are year-round employees who work during training time and found MLB violated Arizona’s state minimum wage law and was liable for triple damages. As well, Spero ruled MLB did not comply with California wage statement requirements, and awarded $1,882,650 in penalties, according to  Spero added that 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 complete the training and obtain a license.”

Spero ruled the following:
  • 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
  • that travel time by California League players to away games is compensable under California law.
The plaintiffs have requested until July 11 to file the approval papers.


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