Minor league lawsuit seeks major league damages

A federal magistrate conditionally ruled in San Francisco Tuesday that a labor lawsuit by minor league baseball players against Major League Baseball and 22 clubs can proceed as a class action on behalf of an estimated 10,000 to 12,000 present and former players.

The lawsuit claims that MLB, which sets rules for minor leagues, and the major league clubs, which sponsor minor teams, are violating federal and state labor laws by failing to pay minor league players the minimum wage, overtime compensation, and wages for off-season work.

It says most minor leaguers are paid between $3,000 and $7,500 per year for 50- to 70-hour workweeks during the five-month championship season and aren’t paid at all for required work during spring training and other times of year.

The suit was originally filed in federal court in San Francisco by three individual players and was later joined by 40 more.

They asked U.S. Magistrate Joseph Spero, the trial judge in the case, to allow the case to be handled as a class, or group, lawsuit on behalf of all players.

In today’s ruling, Spero granted conditional class certification, the first step in allowing a class action under the U.S. Fair Labor Standards Act.

Bobby Poury, a lawyer for the players, estimated the class could include 10,000 to 12,000 present and former minor league players since 2011.

The players’ lawyers can now go ahead with notifying present and former minor leaguers and finding out which players want to opt in to participating in the lawsuit.

The second step in class certification will be a May 20 hearing before Spero, at which lawyers for the players and Major League Baseball can argue whether the certification should be made final.

Players’ attorney Bruce Simon said:

“This is a critical first step for thousands of minor leaguers who have not been paid fairly. Most of these players, many of whom sign right out of high school, are paid below minimum wage, or not paid at all for certain off-season work. …¬†As a result of the court’s order today, past and current minor leaguers will have the opportunity to request that they be included in the class action, going forward. Notice telling players of the details will go out shortly.”

MLB spokesman Michael Teevan said the organization had no comment.

The 22 clubs named in the lawsuit include the San Francisco Giants and the Oakland A’s. The players originally sued all 30 MLB franchises, but Spero dismissed eight that did not have a substantial connection to California.