Lawsuit Alleges MLB Exploits Minor League Players

1Ball-thumb-195x183-32489A lawsuit filed by Korein Tillery alleges that minor league baseball players are paid illegally low wages.

The putative class action lawsuit, filed on February 6 in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, charges Major League Baseball, commissioner Bud Selig, and three major league teams with violating federal and state wage and hour laws and actively colluding on many aspects of minor leaguers working conditions including wages, contract terms, drug testing, and discipline. (Minor league players are paid by major league teams.) [complaint]

The Plaintiffs, former major league prospects, allege that their former teams failed to pay them minimum wage and overtime, as well as failing to pay for other work performed for MLB including winter and spring training, and instructional leagues.

A minor league player typically makes between $3,000 and $7,500 a year while the minimum salary for a Major League player is $500,000 annually.

And the salary gap is even more jarring when you consider that MLB pulls in more than $8 billion in annual revenue. But they pay the majority of their minor league players below the federal poverty line, which is $11,490 for a single person and $23,550 for a family of four.

Korein Tillery attorney Garrett Broshuis was a pitcher in the Giants’ minor league system for six-years and has this perspective: “Because of the salaries paid by MLB, minor leaguers are often forced to live with host families or to cram five or six guys into a two-bedroom apartment. They simply cannot survive on the salaries paid by MLB and its teams, even though the players routinely work more than forty hours and sometimes up to seventy hours per week during the season.”

The reason that MLB and its teams are able to pay such meager salaries is because of a vast disparity in bargaining power. MLB and its teams enjoy a historical exemption from antitrust laws. And unlike major league players, minor leaguers have no union and no collective voice. Without the protection of a union, young minor leaguers have been at the mercy of the MLB monopoly.

Korein Tillery has eschewed challenging the antitrust exemption, and has instead crafted a novel legal argument contending that baseball has violated the Fair Labor Standards Act and state laws guaranteeing minimum wage and overtime pay. The act states that employers must pay at least minimum wage, and pay one-and-a-half times for every hour after 40 hours. “MLB may be exempt from antitrust laws, but that exemption in no way excuses them from meeting basic wage requirements dictated by state and federal laws” said Broshuis.

While the defendants have not yet filed a response, some legal experts, like Michael McCann of the Sports and Entertainment Law Institute, expect that MLB and the teams will try to have the motion dismissed on a number of fronts. The League might argue that the players voluntarily signed contracts, so they knew what they were getting into, and will attempt to rely on exemptions in the laws. But regardless of the defendants’ response, the plaintiffs have a strong case and it is expected to move forward. Watch this space for updates.

-Mary Ellen Egan

Email: megan@koreintillery.com