On September 14, 2016, the minor-league baseball players suing Major League Baseball over alleged wage-and-hour violations took a new approach at class certification, arguing in their motion to the court that their new class structure is more streamlined and solves the issues pointed out by the court.
Let’s back up.
Back in February 2014, a crew of minor-league baseball players brought a lawsuit against MLB, claiming that although there were weeks where they put in over 50 hours of work, they did not even receive compensation that would amount to minimum wage or overtime — in fact, some earned as little as $1,100 per month during the season.
As a result, in October 2015, California Magistrate Judge Joseph C. Spero conditionally certified the class action lawsuit, permitting more than 2,200 minor leaguers out of a potential 14,800 joining the class action.
Why does this matter? Well, a class action allows all eligible members of the class to receive judicial relief without being forced to bring thousands of separate suits. If these minor-league players are struggling enough as it is to make ends meet, the last thing they will want to do is individually pay for expensive litigation. There are other benefits as well, such as a strengthened negotiating position and receiving one decision for all members — if each case is decided individually, there is a risk of inconsistent judgments among each suit.
However, the saga continues. In July 2016, Judge Spero decided to decertify the class. One of the requirements for a class action lawsuit is that the class members’ claims have common issues of law and fact, and Judge Spero determined that the players failed to meet this threshold, reasoning that their individual experiences “will give rise to a plethora of individualized inquiries relating to the determination of the amount of compensable work plaintiffs performed.”
Onward the story goes. In August 2016, Judge Spero let the players know that they still had hope of certifying the class, informing them that he would reconsider on the condition that the players narrow the scope of the class and address the issues with the expert’s survey.
And here we are. September 2016, and the minor leaguers have now filed their motion to certify as a class, arguing that this motion solves the issues pointed out by Judge Spero. First, this motion drastically reduces the scope of the class action: offseason work is no longer at issue, and the suit is now limited to players participating in California League games and/or spring training or instructional league games in Arizona and Florida. Moreover, the proposed classes exclude anyone who has signed an MLB contract, potentially solving the fear of huge pay disparities being at issue.
While it remains unclear if Judge Spero will accept the players’ new proposal, what is clear from this new motion is that if the rally does not begin now, it may never be able to. As stated in this motion, “[i]f players cannot fight that wrong on a league-wide basis — as a class — the reality is this injustice will likely continue in perpetuity as it has for decades. More than 2,200 opt-ins and thousands of absent class members ask this Court not to let that happen.”