Minor leagues work year round, MLB violates wage laws

NEW YORK – A federal judge ruled that minor leagues are year-round employees who work during practice hours, finding Major League Baseball violated Arizona state minimum wage law and was liable for treble damages.

U.S. District Judge Joseph C. Spero in San Francisco also ruled that MLB failed to meet California payroll requirements and imposed penalties of $1,882,650.

Spero on Tuesday night unsealed a 181-page judgment in a lawsuit filed eight years ago. He ruled that smaller leagues should be paid for travel time to road games in the California League and training in Arizona and Florida.

“These are not students who enrolled in a vocational school with the understanding that they are providing services for free as part of the practical training required to complete the apprenticeship and obtain a license,” Spero wrote.

Spero denied many of MLB’s summary judgment requests, allowing those claims to proceed to a trial scheduled for June 1.


He ruled for the players under Arizona state law, leaving only the amount of damages to be determined.

“For decades, minor league players worked long hours year-round in exchange for poverty-level wages,” the Advocates for Minor Leaguers steering committee said in a statement. “Being a professional baseball player involves a lot more than just playing baseball games. It also requires hours of training, practice and preparation throughout the year for which we have never been adequately rewarded.

“We are thrilled with today’s decision, which is a tremendous step in holding MLB accountable for its longstanding mistreatment of minor league players.”

MLB had no immediate comment.

The lawsuit was filed by first baseman/outfielder Aaron Senne, a 2009 Florida Marlins 10th-round pick who retired in 2013, and two other retired players who were bottom-round picks: Kansas City Infielder Michael Liberto and San Francisco pitcher Oliver Odel.


They alleged violations of the federal Fair Labor Standards Act and state minimum wages and overtime requirements for a workweek they estimated at 50 to 60 hours.

Congress passed the Save America’s Pastime Act in March 2018, amending the FLSA to exempt baseball players from the statutory minimum wage and overtime.

Spero has been running the case for years.

“The court previously ruled that the plaintiffs are employees and not trainees,” he wrote.

The case was remanded to the district court by the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in 2019 after lawyers for the players and MLB argued for years over whether to receive class action status.

Spero decided that MLB is a joint employer with teams of minor league players; that these players “do work” during spring training; that team bus travel time to away games is compensable under FLSA, Florida and Arizona laws; and that California League players’ travel time to away games is compensable under California law.


Spero also said federal law does not allow for a defense against claims from the state of Florida. He dismissed claims under the new law in March 2018 and also dismissed claims against former baseball commissioner Bud Selig, who was listed as a defendant along with the 30 big league clubs in the original lawsuit.


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Joel McCord

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