Pro Baseball Players Strike Out on Overtime Class

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By Jon Steingart

July 22 — Minor league baseball players who say they aren't paid minimum wage or overtime for hours spent traveling to away games, making public appearances, and training in the off season will have to pursue their claims on an individual basis against Major League Baseball and all 160 minor league teams, a federal judge in California ruled ( Senne v. Kan. City Royals Baseball Corp. , 2016 BL 235024, N.D. Cal., No. 14-cv-00608, 7/21/16 ).

All the “individualized inquiries associated with Plaintiffs' claims will overwhelm the common questions” that are necessary for class certification under various state wage and hour laws, Magistrate Judge Joseph C. Spero of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California said. Similarly, collective adjudication of claims under the Fair Labor Standards Act would be “unmanageable and potentially unfair to Defendants,” he said.

A bipartisan pair of House lawmakers last month introduced legislation that would exempt employees who “play baseball at the minor league level” from the FLSA's minimum wage and overtime requirements. Rep. Cheri Bustos (D-Ill.) withdrew support less than a week after the Save America's Pastime Act's (H.R. 5580) introduction, leaving Rep. Brett Guthrie (R-Ky.) as its only sponsor.

Tyson Foods Distinguished

The players contended that the only individualized inquiries would concern damages, Spero said. They said they hired a statistician who would survey class members to develop a model that would prove their damages.

The players argued that the U.S. Supreme Court in Tyson Foods, Inc. v. Bouaphakeo , 136 S. Ct. 1036, 194 L. Ed. 2d 124, 26 WH Cases2d 297 (U.S. 2016), blessed the use of representative evidence in situations such as theirs when an employer hasn't maintained adequate work records.

But Tyson Foods is distinguishable, Spero said. Statistical evidence may be used when workers are “similarly affected by a uniform policy,” he said.

The survey the players proposed would go beyond filling in “evidentiary gaps,” Spero said. Their plan would “paper over significant material variations that make application of the survey results to the class as a whole improper,” he said.

Granting class action treatment “would be inappropriate under the circumstances here because doing so would enlarge the rights of Plaintiffs and deprive Defendants of the right to litigate the individual issues,” he said.

Major League Baseball declined to comment about the ruling. It referred Bloomberg BNA to its June 30 statement in response to the legislation, in which it said “it is simply impractical to treat professional athletes as hourly employees whose pay may be determined by such things as how long their games last, when they choose to arrive at the ballpark, how much they practice or condition to stay in shape, and how many promotional or charitable appearances they make.”

Attorneys for the players and Major League Baseball didn't immediately respond to July 22 phone calls seeking comment.

Korein Tillery LLC and Pearson, Simon & Warshaw LLP represented the players. Proskauer Rose LLP represented Major League Baseball and the teams.

To contact the reporter on this story: Jon Steingart in Washington at jsteingart@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Susan J. McGolrick at smcgolrick@bna.com

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