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Minor League Players “Chasing a Dream” Under Harsh Living Conditions

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Major League Baseball wants to prohibit minor leaguers from discussing “poor living conditions” as stated in their California wage lawsuit.

Santa Clara, CAIf Major League Baseball and its teams have their way, minor leaguers will be prohibited from mentioning their purported poor living conditions at a California wage trial, arguing that the evidence is irrelevant and could unfairly sway jurors.

Chasing the Dream

Back in 2014, three minor league baseball players filed a class action in California federal court claiming that low-rank players are paid as little as $1,100 per month and highest ranks of the minor leagues received about $2,150 a month. For this pay, players work 50 hours or more each week during a five-month season and sometimes even nothing for postseason and off-season work that's considered mandatory – in other words, they were paid less than minimum wage and uncompensated for overtime.

The MLB said that minor leaguers are "chasing a dream," which justifies why players might voluntarily work longer hours. According to court documents, the purpose of the "chasing the dream" argument is not to claim the league is exempt from labor laws but to show "that players engaged in activities not because they were required to but because they were motivated to outhustle their peers in order to achieve a coveted spot on a Major League roster …" 

More MLB Wage and Labor Violations

And there’s discrimination issues: Players recruited from Latin America especially are vulnerable, as they are often still teenagers, from poor families, with little more than an eighth- grade education, the plaintiffs allege. Further, the complaint states that the MLB unfairly restricts players from negotiating their contracts and that the MLB and its major league baseball teams act as a cartel to keep minor league players’ salaries below market rates;  and it exploits minor leaguers by “paying anti-competitive, fixed salaries below minimum wage, by not paying overtime wages, and by often paying no wages at all.” As well, the league allegedly inserted a “reserve clause” into players’ contracts that allows teams to retain the contractual rights to players for seven years. The clause restricts players’ ability to negotiate with other teams for their baseball services; limits the compensation they receive and leaves players with “nonexistent contractual mobility”. And the minor league players do not have a union or collective bargaining agreement, allegedly because efforts to unionize have been unsuccessful due to fears of retaliation.

On April 11, 2022 Defendant MLB argued that the minor leaguers' wage claims are the same, whether they're independently wealthy or have no other source of income. MLB states in the lawsuit the following:

“Just as an employer cannot excuse compliance with the wage and hour laws on grounds of economic hardship…any economic difficulties or challenging living conditions that Plaintiffs might claim to have experienced have no bearing on the merits of their claims. Such evidence accordingly has no probative value, but would be deeply unfair to the Defendants. It could only be intended to sway the jury as a matter of emotion or sympathy rather than the evidence presented, or to suggest that the Plaintiffs and class members are particularly deserving of a verdict in their favor because of hardships they have allegedly experienced while training for a Major League opportunity…how jurors would feel if they were in [Plaintiff’s] position is irrelevant to the determination of whether [Plaintiff] is entitled to overtime. The unfair prejudice certain to result from such stories unquestionably outweighs its (non-existent) probative value, and should not be permitted.”

Minor leaguer plaintiffs counter that players' living conditions are relevant "because it shows that the very harm the Fair Labor Standards Act was designed to prevent is alive and well within minor league baseball.” Although they don't intend to make their living situations the trial's focus, “Under no circumstances should they be precluded before trial from offering evidence showing the substandard living conditions they endured as a result of Defendants' failure to pay them a legal wage when preventing that very thing was the legislative objective of the Fair Labor Standards Act," their filing states.

The trial begins June 1. The case is Senne et al. v. Office of the Commissioner of Baseball et al., case number 3:14-cv-00608, in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California.


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