MINOR LEAGUE PLAYERS CHALLENGE BASEBALL’S LABOR PRACTICES « Law Offices of Timothy Bowles | Top Employment Law Firm in Los Angeles


Underpayment of Minimum Wage and Overtime Is Foul Play

Thirty-three former minor league ball players seek to pull back the curtain on alleged system-wide violations of minimum wage or overtime. Their federal class action suit challenges Commissioner Bud Selig, the Office of the Commissioner, and, in effect, every baseball team in the country to remedy such practices.  If the court agrees, the suit will include thousands of current and former minor league players. See, Senne v. Office of the Commissioner of Baseball, Case No. 3:14-cv-00608-JCS (United States District Court, Northern District of California, San Francisco Division); and “Most minor league ballplayers earn less than half as much money as fast-food workers” U.S.A. Today, March 6, 2014.

The federal Fair Labor Standards Act and the laws of every state require the payment of minimum wage and overtime to the vast majority of workers, including many professional athletes.    According to these minor league plaintiffs, the Major League Baseball “cartel” has considered itself above such mundane requirements as employment laws for many years.

The players allege that in concert with the team owners the Commissioner establishes salary amounts that all teams pay their minor league players.  Shocking if true, the players assert that while the unionized major leaguers earn a minimum of $500,000 per season (and some, of course, many times that amount), minor leaguers earn an average total of $3,000 to $7,500 for the entire five-month “championship season,” and nothing for spring and post-season training, while working 50-70 hours a week.

If the few players who brought this suit can win court approval to include the many other minor leaguers potentially affected by unlawful labor practices, the teams may have to pay millions in unpaid minimum wage and overtime.  For those teams employing players in California, it could be even worse with this state’s stringent laws for penalties and other damages arising from underpayment of wages.  These include (but are not limited to):

  • California Labor Code 203, providing for up to 30 days of wages as a penalty for not paying what is owed when the person leaves employment;
  • Labor Code 210, providing for civil penalty of $100 for each initial failure to pay an employee on time and $200 for each subsequent violation;
  • Labor Code 226(e), providing for civil penalty of $50 for each initial inaccurate or incomplete paystub violation and $100 for each subsequent violation, up to $4,000 per employee;
  • Labor Code 558, providing for civil penalty of $50 for each initial violation of wage regulations and $100 for each subsequent violation;
  • Labor Code 1194.2, providing for liquidated damages for failure to pay minimum wage;
  • Labor Code 1197.1, for underpayment of wages, providing a penalty per employee for each pay period of $100 on an initial violation and $200 for each subsequent violation;  and
  • Labor Code 2698, permitting an aggrieved employee, as a “private attorney general,”  to collect on behalf of all damaged workers civil penalties per employee for each pay period of $100 on an initial violation and $200 for subsequent violations.

This suit again points up the vital importance of employer attention to the details of timekeeping, pay and records maintenance practices.  Significant, business-breaking consequences can be involved for a company’s alleged “little” errors that affect a large number of employees.  See, The Devil Is In The Details: Employment Class Action Suits Can Hinge On A Court’s Choice of Definitions.  There is even greater urgency for California employers with this state’s minimum wage increase to $9.00/hour on July 1, 2014.  See, California Minimum Wage Increasing.

For further information and assistance on such critical matters, please contact attorneys Tim Bowles, Cindy Bamforth or Helena Kobrin.

May 22, 2014