The lawsuit filed by current and former minor league baseball players against Major League Baseball for higher and fairer wages received a significant setback in a San Francisco court on Thursday, VICE Sports has learned. The minor leaguers, headlined by former player Aaron Senne, had their class action certification stripped away after having received a provisional class status last fall when they sued MLB under the Fair Labor Standards Act.
“We’re exploring all avenues, even the possibility of appeal right now,” Grant Broshuis, the plaintiff’s lawyer, told VICE Sports on Friday. “We’ll certainly continue to represent our clients and pursue the litigation.”
The decertification is the latest news in what has become a growing and heated battle for better treatment of minor league players from MLB. Broshuis, a former minor league pitcher serves as counsel for the Senne suit against MLB and also one brought by a former scout who was also suing MLB for increased pay.
Broshuis says he does not know yet if his St. Louis-based firm, Korein Tillery, will represent each plaintiff individually or how it will proceed exactly. After the original provisional certification last year, the plaintiffs had been given until February 11 to get other minor league players to opt into the class action suit. More than 2,200 former and current minor leaguers chose to join the class, according to court documents.
The decision to decertify was delivered on Thursday by judge Joseph C. Spero in U.S. District Court in San Francisco.
“While the Court finds that many of the issues raised in this case (including issues relating to defenses) may be addressed on a class-wide basis, the collective members are not similarly situated,” Spero wrote in his ruling. “Rather, as discussed above, the disparate factual and employment settings of the class members make collective adjudication of Plaintiffs’ FLSA claims unmanageable and potentially unfair to Defendants. Most significantly, the Court finds that there are wide variations among the players as to the types of activities in which they engaged and the circumstances under which they engaged in them, which will give rise to a plethora of individualized inquiries relating to the determination of the amount of compensable work Plaintiffs performed. Adjudication of Plaintiffs’ FLSA claims will also involve numerous individualized inquiries regarding the amount of compensation received by class members and the applicability of various defenses, including the amusement exemption and the creative professionals exemption.”
Since the lawsuit against MLB was first filed, the discussion over what constitutes fair wages for minor leaguers, and if they deserve them, has only grown louder and more complex. Last month, the Save America’s Pastime Act was introduced in the House of Representatives. It intended to exempt minor leaguers from the Fair Labor Standards Act. The bill maintained that minor leaguers were not in the same position as those who had “traditional hourly-rate jobs.” Originally introduced by two members of Congress, Rep. Cheri Bustos pulled her support after the bill was filleted in the media. Rep. Brett Guthrie continues to back the bill.
Congressman Brett Guthrie and Congresswoman Cheri Bustos introduce the Save America
— Josh Norris (@jnorris427) June 29, 2016
While the bill was surprising and hugely unpopular, MLB’s response in support of it created even more controversy with its odd and dubious categorization of minor league players.
“For the overwhelming majority of individuals, being a Minor League Baseball player is not a career,” MLB said in the statement. “But a short-term seasonal apprenticeship in which the player either advances to the Major Leagues or pursues another career.”
But that hardly rose to the level of rhetoric espoused by Stan Brand, Minor League Baseball’s vice president and chief lobbyist in Washington D.C. He turned the minor league suit into a life or death referendum for his sport during an address at baseball’s winter meetings in 2014, the first after the lawsuit was filed. He also promised to lobby Congress for minor leaguers to be excluded from overtime pay and minimum wage salaries under the Fair Labor Standards Act.
“I will you ask you to heed the clarion call,” he said, according to Baseball America. “Man the battle stations and carry the message to Congress loudly and clearly: The value of grassroots baseball and our stewardship of the game needs to be protected against the onslaught of these suits.”
[IMAGE: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports]