Minor League Baseball Players Strike Out On Wage Claims Against MLB, Judge Decertifies Collective and Class Actions
A judge of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California has granted MLB’s motion to decertify the collective of former minor league baseball players against major league baseball, the Commissioner, and several MLB franchises alleging they were not paid the minimum wage in violation of the FLSA. He also denied the plaintiffs’ request to certify their state law wage and hour claims as a class action. Senne, et al. v. Kansas City Royals Baseball Corp., et al., No. 14-CV-00608-JCS (July 21, 2016).
In so far as they involve groups of plaintiffs joining together in a lawsuit, collective actions and class actions are quite similar. However, plaintiffs who want to be involved must “opt in” to a collective action, whereas individuals covered by a class action must “opt out” in order not to be covered.
The plaintiffs contended MLB and its clubs violated the Fair Labor Standards Act, as well as similar state wage and hour laws, by paying them a total of only $3,000-$7,000 over a five-month season, despite their working from 50 to 70 hours per week. The former players also alleged the franchises have been paying them less than minimum wage, denying them overtime pay, and requiring them to train during the off-season without pay.
In his July 21, 2016, Order, the U.S. Magistrate Judge Joseph Spero denied the plaintiffs’ motion that their state wage and hour claims be certified as a class action as they did not meet the certification requirements
Spero found there were sufficient numbers of potential plaintiffs to satisfy the “numerosity” requirement, the existence of shared legal issues met the “commonality” requirement, and the class representatives could “fairly and adequately protect the interests of the class.” However, he also found that (1) there would be no simple way to determine who is a member of the class in each of the states; (2) the plaintiffs had not demonstrated that the “typicality” requirement was met because the court could not determine whether the proposed class representatives for each state class collectively had presented claims that were typical of the class; and (3) the common questions raised by the state law claims did not predominate over individual issues – those individual issues “will overwhelm the common questions…and … the class mechanism is not superior because adjudicating plaintiffs’ claims on a classwide basis will not be manageable.”
Nine months earlier, Spero had granted (on a conditional basis) the former minor league players’ request to certify their proposed collective — all minor league players who worked for the MLB or any MLB franchise since February 7, 2011, but who had not spent time in the major leagues at the time of performing work as a minor leaguer — under the FLSA.
However, with additional evidence relevant to the collective, he decertified it based on an analysis similar to that applied to the class action question. The Judge found the plaintiffs were not “similarly situated” because of “disparate factual and employment settings of the class members [that] make collective adjudication of Plaintiffs’ FLSA claims unmanageable and potentially unfair to Defendants.”
The minor league players likely will appeal the Judge’s Order.