Spring is here, and the national pastime is back! The crack of the bat, an umpire’s calls, the smell of popcorn, the shouts of the beer vendors and the filing of a class-action wage and hour lawsuit by minor league baseball players. It doesn’t get any more American than that!
In 2016, a federal district court refused to certify a class of minor league baseball players who had initiated a lawsuit based upon the claim that they are not properly paid overtime during the baseball season and were not paid minimum wages for off-season workouts, including compensation for spring training, fall instructional leagues, and time spent in personal training during the winter off-season. However, the court recently gave a conditional certification to a narrower class action which did not include the original claim for minimum wages for winter training/conditioning. The exclusion of the winter training period was found to be significant by the court since it removed wide variations as to the type of activities engaged in by players in the off-season as well as the conditions and circumstances which surrounded their winter training. The court had concluded that there would simply be too many individualized inquiries in that area relating to each separate player involved in the lawsuit.
The newest lawsuit focuses on the activities that players engaged in at team complexes and ball parks when they were under the defendant teams’ direct control and supervision. The teams involved in the lawsuit asserted certain defenses to the demand for overtime payment based upon the “seasonal amusement and recreational establishment exemption,” and also because, they alleged, the players were “creative professional” employees and thus covered by that exemption from overtime.
This lawsuit involved only three teams, the Kansas City Royals, the Miami Marlins, and the San Francisco Giants. It remains to be seen how far the lawsuit, now that conditional certification of a class of players has been offered, will spread. A review of this ruling and the factors involved with the players’ claim leads to the inquiry of whether our national pastime has moved from baseball to filing lawsuits.
Given the times that we are in, perhaps the new baseball anthem should be something along the lines of the following (to the tune of “Take Me Out to the Ballpark”):
Take me out to the courthouse
I want to go see the judge
Let’s file a lawsuit, a class action
Hitting a ball was never this fun!