The Supreme Court on Monday denied Major League Baseball's request to dismiss a class certification in a lawsuit filed on behalf of minor league players, paving the way for a case in which players seek to receive compensation commensurate with hours worked.
The case of Senne v. Royals, filed originally in 2014 on behalf of former minor league player Aaron Senne, expanded to encompass thousands of past and present players who were not paid during spring training or received salaries below the poverty line.
"The ultimate goal is pretty simple: to get MLB to comply with the same laws that Walmart and McDonald's comply with," said Garrett Broshuis, the attorney and former minor league player who filed the initial lawsuit. "Whenever they ask players to go to spring training, they should be paying their employees for it. During a season, there's no reason for players to be making $7,500 or $8,000 a year."
Minor league players long have been paid below minimum wage for the number of hours worked. Had the minor league season not been canceled in 2020, Triple-A players would have received $700 per week played, Double-A players $600, Class A players $500 and Rookie League and short-season players $400 -- and that constituted a significant bump from the previous year, in which lower-level players topped out at $290 a week. Even with the raises, some players still would have been paid less than $5,000 for a full season.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in August 2019 allowed the lawsuit to proceed as a class action. Former players are seeking back pay and current players rules to pay them for hours worked.
In 2018, lawmakers included the Save America's Pastime Act, which stripped minor leaguers of minimum wage protection, in a $1.3 trillion omnibus spending bill. Though players typically work more than 60 hours a week in season, the law called for them to be paid minimum wage for 40 hours a week "irrespective of the number of hours the employee devotes to baseball-related activities."
"The Save America's Pastime Act was a horrible act," Broshuis said. "It was a misnomer. There was never a need for it."
With federal protections limited, the Ninth Circuit ruling allowed players in California, Arizona and Florida -- the sites of dozens of teams and all spring training facilities -- to join the class. No players, including major leaguers, receive salaries during spring training, though MLB players negotiate through the MLB Players Association the terms of their payment. No union for minor league players exists, and they have also not been paid in instructional league, which takes place after the season.
Minor league baseball is in the midst of a fundamental overhaul, with a quarter of the 160 teams expected to be contracted and short-season leagues leaving affiliated baseball and being repurposed as amateur development leagues. The Professional Baseball Agreement between MLB and Minor League Baseball expired at the end of September, and the expectation is that MLB will take control of the minor leagues, as it is currently negotiating with minor league owners on a new working arrangement, according to sources.
The lawsuit, which had undergone discovery proceedings prior to the appeal, will resume in the coming months.