Let’s Play Ball: Minor Leaguers v. The MLB

By: Allison Stapleton

A Ninth Circuit Magistrate Judge recently granted class certification to more than 2,200 minor league baseball players, alleging Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) collective action claims against Major League Baseball (“MLB”) and several of its clubs.[1] The case, brought by minor leaguers Aaron Senne, Michael Liberto, and Oliver Odle, individually and on behalf of others similarly situated, seeks class action damages from the MLB’s alleged habitual violation of the FLSA.[2] The minor leaguers allege that, “minor league ballplayers are not paid the minimum wage or overtime, with some earning as little as $1,100 per month during the season despite spending more than 50 hours working each week,” and were certified as a class in the Ninth Circuit based on the individual players’ claims over hours worked during “spring training and California League games on a classwide basis.”[3]

Pursuant to the FLSA, non-exempt employees who work over forty hours in a week must be paid “at a rate not less than one and one-half times the regular rate at which he is employed,” for each additional hour worked over the forty-hour mark.[4] The minor leaguers claim that the MLB has systematically denied players covered under the FLSA overtime compensation for games and training required over the course of their employment.[5] The MLB may be considered an enterprise under the FLSA, which subjects the organization to the provisions of the FLSA.[6] The MLB can also arguably be exempt from the FLSA under the “seasonal exemption” of 13(a)(3).[7] The provision provides, “any employee employed by an establishment which is an amusement or recreational establishment, if (A) it does not operate for more than seven months in any calendar year, or (B) during the preceding calendar year, its average receipts for any six months of such year were not more than 33-1/3 per centum of its average receipts for the other six months of such year.”[8]

The minor league players’ salaries are paid by the major league teams that have affiliated minor league teams, which subjects the MLB to potential liability as an employer.[9] The MLB argues that the individual minor leaguer’s experiences vary too greatly for class certification under Rule 23 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.[10] The court denied the minor-leaguers’ original motion for class certification for the same reason MLB argues the recertification is flawed; the MLB contended, “players’ individual experiences varied too much and that an employment survey used to estimate the number of hours they worked was flawed.”[11]

The lawsuit by the minor leaguers argues that minor league players are “working poor” and earn two to three times less than fast food workers, under the poverty level.[12] The players further allege that the MLB violates the FLSA by not paying minor leaguers for their participation in pre-season spring training, which they argue is entirely unpaid labor.[13] The MLB is seeking the Ninth Circuit judge’s class certification of the minor leaguers as this litigation continues.[14]

[1] Zachary Zagger, MLB Looks To Appeal Minor Leaguer Class Cert. in Wage Row, Law 360 (March 22, 2017, 5:23 PM),

https://www.law360.com/employment/articles/904871/mlb-looks-to-appeal-minor-leaguer-class-cert-in-wage-row.

[2] See Complaint for Violations of Federal and State Wage and Hour Laws, Senne v. Comm’r- of Baseball (No. 00608) (N.D. Cal. Feb. 7, 2014).

[3] Id.

[4] 29 U.S.C.A. § 207.

[5] Zagger, supra note 1.

[6] Fact Sheet #14: Coverage Under the Fair Labor Standards Act, United States Department of Labor (FLSA) (July 2009), https://www.dol.gov/whd/regs/compliance/whdfs14.htm.

[7] Fact Sheet #18: Section 13(a)(3) Exemption for Seasonal Amusement or Recreational Establishment Under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), United States Department of Labor, https://www.dol.gov/whd/regs/compliance/whdfs18.pdf (last visited Apr. 2, 2016).

[8] Id.

[9] Bill Shaikin, Should minor leaguers get minimum wage and overtime pay? Baseball says no., Los Angeles Times (June 29, 2016, 12:54 PM), http://www.latimes.com/sports/sportsnow/la-sp-minor-league-wage-lawsuit-20160629-snap-story.html.

[10]See Senne et al v. Office of the Commissioner of Baseball, et al, Justia, (Mar. 7, 2017), https://docs.justia.com/cases/federal/district-courts/california/candce/3:2014cv00608/274347/782.

[11] Fola Akinnibli, Minor Leaguers Take Another Crack at Cert. in Wage, OT Row, Law 360 (Sept., 15, 2016, 5:02 PM),

https://www.law360.com/articles/840452?scroll=1.

[12] Ted Burg, Most Minor League Ballplayers Earn Less Than Half as Much Money as Fast-Food Workers, USA Today (Mar. 6, 2014, 3:25 PM), http://ftw.usatoday.com/2014/03/minor-leaguers-working-poor-lawsuit-mlb-bud-selig.

[13] Jeremy Venook, Minor Leagues, Minimal Wages, The Atlantic (Sept. 21, 2016), https://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2016/09/minor-leagues-minimum-wage-lawsuit/500216/.

[14] Zagger, supra note 1.

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