Joe Torre-Umpire Dispute Spills Into Court as MLB Accused of Bias

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By Patrick Dorrian

Long-time umpire Angel Hernandez says in a new lawsuit that he has faced race and national origin discrimination by Major League Baseball under Chief Baseball Officer Joe Torre ( Hernandez v. Office of Comm’r of Baseball , S.D. Ohio, No. 1:17-cv-00456, complaint filed 7/3/17 ).

The workplace slights have included “a noticeable tonal shift” in Hernandez’s performance evaluations since Torre took office in February 2011, according to a lawsuit filed July 3 in federal court in Ohio. Hernandez’s evaluations now never fail to mention Torre’s perception that Hernandez tries to “put himself in the spotlight,” the complaint says.

That impression of Hernandez was formed by Torre in 2001, when he was manager of the New York Yankees and he believed Hernandez made a bad call while umpiring a Yankees’ game, the complaint says. Torre allegedly stated publicly at the time that Hernandez “seems to see something nobody else does” and that Hernandez “just wanted to be noticed.”

MLB under Torre also has an abysmal record of assigning minority umpires to World Series games—an assignment that comes with payment of a bonus—or promoting them to crew chief, Hernandez alleges. Of the 36 World Series umpire assignments made during Torre’s tenure, 34 have gone to white umpires, Hernandez says. Moreover, all 23 crew chief promotions since 2000 have gone to whites, he adds. In the history of the league, Hernandez alleges, there has only ever been one nonwhite crew chief: a U.S.-born umpire of Latino descent.

MLB didn’t respond July 5 to Bloomberg BNA’s request for comment. This is the second time in the past five years that MLB has been sued for race or national origin discrimination in a lawsuit that was filed in or removed to federal court, according to Bloomberg Law dockets. The other case was brought by a Hispanic woman who allegedly faced national origin bias while working in the league’s legal department.

League Said to Favor Less-Experienced White Umps

The Cuban-born Hernandez personally has been unfairly passed over for World Series assignments and crew chief promotions during Torre’s reign, the complaint charges.

That’s so even though Hernandez has been an MLB umpire for almost 24 years and earned uniformly excellent reviews prior to Torre’s assuming oversight of umpires. Those sterling reviews led to him being picked to call both the 2002 and 2005 World Series, and he also has vast experience umpiring major league playoff games, Hernandez says.

As a result, Hernandez in recent years “has watched as other, less-experienced, generally white umpires have been assigned to the World Series instead of him,” according to his complaint.

The same has been true when it comes to Hernandez’s numerous bids to become a permanent crew chief, with less-experienced whites again being tapped instead of him even though Hernandez has experience as an interim crew chief both before and under Torre’s leadership, the lawsuit alleges. In rejecting Hernandez for promotion in 2017, Torre said the veteran umpire needed to “gain greater mastery” of the rules and replay regulations, a characterization “belied” by Hernandez’s long tenure and “the nearly two decades worth” of praise he’s received for his on-field focus and technical expertise, the complaint says.

But the league’s race problems in its umpire ranks don’t begin and end with Torre, Hernandez asserts. Between 2000 and 2016, MLB teams played 77,760 regular season games. None of those games was worked by a “permanent minority crew chief,” he says.

Hernandez’s complaint, which also includes claims of national origin bias, was filed under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, the Civil Rights Act of 1866 (42 U.S.C. § 1981), and Ohio employment discrimination law.

Kevin L. Murphy of Murphy Landen Jones PLLC in Fort Mitchell, Ky., represents Hernandez. No attorney has filed an appearance yet for MLB.

To contact the reporter on this story: Patrick Dorrian in Washington at pdorrian@bna.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Peggy Aulino at maulino@bna.com; Terence Hyland at thyland@bna.com; Chris Opfer at copfer@bna.com

Copyright © 2017 The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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