Major League Baseball again facing class-action lawsuit

All 30 professional teams are named defendants in lawsuit alleging the MLB does not pay many minor leaguers minimum wage.

Major League Baseball is no stranger to high-stakes legal proceedings. Currently, Major League Baseball is facing two class action lawsuits, one from fans over proposed television blackouts and one from minor league players over alleged minimum wage violations. San Jose also recently appealed its case against the MLB over moving the Oakland Athletics to its city to the U.S. Supreme Court.

For current and hopeful professional athletes, the ongoing class action lawsuit against the MLB is most relevant. The lawsuit against the MLB and all 30 franchises alleges the league violates state and federal wage and hour laws in its contracts with minor league players. Under the Fair Labor Standards Act, employees must receive the federal minimum wage, currently at $7.25 per hour. Many minor league contracts, which average $7,500 for an entire season, do not meet minimum wage. First-year players make even less, no more than $1,100 per month for five months of the year. Minor league players also do not receive overtime. Major League Baseball, however, argues that minimum wage requirements do not apply to minor league contracts, which it claims meet an exemption for seasonal work.

Minor league contracts one-sided, lawsuit alleges

Average minor league contracts last for seven years, during which time an MLB team can terminate the contract for almost any reason or trade the player to another franchise, but the player cannot play for any other professional team - even in other countries - without potentially incurring punishment from the Commissioner. Combined with low wages, several minor league players have alleged a violation of state and federal law, claiming that such contracts are one-sided in favor of the MLB. The class action also alleges collusion among major league teams. However, unlike several previous lawsuits, the current class action does not allege a violation of federal antitrust laws.

On October 24, 2014, several wage-and-hour lawsuits alleging a violation of federal law were consolidated into one class action in California. On Friday, February 13, a federal judge heard arguments from ten MLB teams that they should not be defendants in the lawsuit. The teams argued that they do not have a significant enough presence in California to justify being named defendants in the class action proceedings. Ultimately, the judge ruled that the plaintiffs must show the court that each team has significant enough ties to the state. If the plaintiffs fail to show enough ties to California, the class action will be heard by a Florida court.

As for the merits of the lawsuit itself, the MLB defends its low pay by arguing the MLB should be exempt from the Fair Labor Standards Act because it is a "training ground" for future big-league players. Although only a handful of minor leaguers make it to the majors every year, the MLB claims that the training and potential of future big-league play is enough to justify the small pay for minor leaguers.

The trial is not scheduled until 2017.

Minor leaguers often confronted with legal issues

Professional athletes often find themselves needing legal help for the business side of sports. Legal issues involving contracts, endorsements, arbitration, and other legal matters can confront a player even before reaching the heights of the profession. This is particularly true of baseball, which requires extensive professional experience in the minor leagues before getting a shot in the majors.

The attorneys at Cook & Price, LLC, have years of experience representing professional athletes in legal disputes and contract negotiations.

Keywords: MLB, class action lawsuit, minor league contracts, Fair Labor Standards Act.