Federal court rules MLB owes minor leagues compensation for unpaid wages
KeithJJ / Pixabay
Federal court rules MLB owes minor leagues compensation for unpaid wages

The US District Court for the Northern District of California ruled Tuesday that Major League Baseball (MLB) violated Arizona and Florida state minimum wage laws when not paying minor leaguers during spring training, instructional leagues, or extended spring training. Chief Magistrate Judge Joseph Spero found that the MLB is liable for $1,882,650 in penalties to plaintiffs. 

The suit originally was filed by first baseman/outfielder Aaron Senne, a 10th-round pick of the Florida Marlins in 2009 who retired in 2013, and two other retired players who had been lower-round selections: Kansas City infielder Michael Liberto and San Francisco pitcher Oliver Odle. Through their attorney, Senne, Liberto, and Odle argued that the MLB violated the federal Fair Labor Standards Act and state minimum wage and overtime requirements for a workweek they estimated to be 50 to 60 hours. 

However, in March 2018, Congress enacted the Save America’s Pastime Act (“SAP”) which amended the Fair Labor Standards Act to exempt baseball players from the statute’s minimum wage and overtime requirements. Following the enactment of SAP, the MLB filed an affirmative defense contending that SAP barred the plaintiffs’ Fair Labor Standards Act claim and plaintiffs’ claims under all state laws that follow the Fair Labor Standards Act.

On Tuesday, Judge Spero rejected MLBs affirmative defense and dismissed the MLBs defenses to all of the plaintiffs’ state law claims. Judge Spero further found that travel time to go to games in both Arizona and Florida is work time that is eligible for compensation if players had other scheduled activities before getting on the bus, and travel time for all California League players is work time. As well as, Judge Spero also stated that the court has already found that minor league baseball players are employees and not trainees; therefore, any argument otherwise is dismissed. “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,” Judge Spero wrote.

After the ruling became public, the steering committee of Advocates for Minor Leaguers said in a statement, “For decades, minor league players have worked long hours year-round in exchange for poverty-level wages…working as a professional baseball player requires far more than just playing baseball games. It also requires hours of year-round training, practice, and preparation, for which we have never been properly compensated.”