Your 2014 MLB Legal Year-in-Review: Part Two

This is the second in a series of posts looking back at the most significant events in what has been an unusually eventful year for Major League Baseball on the legal front. Part One reviewed the legal maneuvering surrounding Alex Rodriguez’s suspension and the Oakland A’s proposed move to San Jose. This part now looks at baseball’s minimum wage issues and two potentially embarrassing gender discrimination suits filed against MLB and its teams in 2014.

MLB Pay Practices

MLB’s allegedly unlawful pay practices were the subject of considerable legal scrutiny in 2014. Most significantly, in February the league was hit with the first of two class action lawsuits filed on behalf of former minor league baseball players, cases asserting that MLB’s minor league salary scale violates federal and state minimum wage and overtime laws.

In Senne v. Office of the Commissioner, the plaintiffs contend that MLB has violated the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) by paying minor league players as little as $3,300 per year, without overtime, despite often requiring players to work 50 or more hours per week. Moreover, as the suit notes, minor leaguers typically are not paid at all for their participation in spring training, fall instructional leagues, or mandatory offseason workout programs. All told, then, the suit claims that most minor league players receive well below the federally guaranteed minimum wage of $7.25 per hour.

Another group of former minor leaguers then filed a second class action suit against MLB in July on similar grounds. While the second suit – Marti v. Office of the Commissioner – shares much in common with the Senne case, the Marti lawsuit differentiates itself by specifically focusing on the plight of Latino ballplayers (all of the named plaintiffs in the Marti suit originally hail from Latin America).

Both cases are still in the initial phases of litigation. Notably, however, MLB is currently seeking to have the suits transferred from California to Florida federal court. MLB contends that Florida would be a more convenient venue for the parties considering the number of MLB teams with spring training facilities located in the state. In reality, though, MLB is likely hoping to take advantage of Florida case precedent, which holds that professional baseball teams are seasonal recreational operations, and therefore not subject to the FLSA.

The California court will likely decide whether to transfer the cases sometime in the first half of 2015. Either way, a trial is unlikely to occur until 2017 or 2018 at the earliest (assuming, of course, that Congress doesn’t grant baseball an FLSA exemption before then).

Beyond the minor leagues, MLB’s pay practices faced legal scrutiny on others fronts as well in 2014. For instance, in March, MLB successfully defeated a minimum wage lawsuit brought by volunteers at the 2013 All-Star Week FanFest held in New York City. Like the Senne and Marti suits discussed above, Chen v. Major League Baseball asserted that MLB had violated the FLSA by failing to pay its volunteers the minimum wage. Federal court Judge John Koeltl concluded otherwise, however, holding that because FanFest was a “seasonal amusement or recreational establishment,” its volunteers were not owed the minimum wage or overtime. An appeal in the case is pending, with a decision likely to be issued sometime in 2015.

Finally, four MLB teams also faced U.S. Department of Labor investigations into their pay practices in 2014. The Labor Department believed that the Baltimore Orioles, Miami Marlins, Oakland Athletics and San Francisco Giants were each violating the FLSA by paying their clubhouse attendants, administrative workers, and interns less than the minimum wage and/or failing to pay them overtime.

For example, the Marlins were accused of paying its clubhouse attendants a flat rate of $50 per day despite often requiring them to work 11 hours or more at a time. The team settled the claims earlier this year by agreeing to pay $288,290 in back wages and damages to 39 team employees. The Giants and A’s both reached similar settlements with the Labor Department.

According to a 2013 memo from MLB’s then-COO Rob Manfred, however, the government believes these issues are “endemic to [the baseball] industry,” meaning that other MLB teams may face similar investigations by the Labor Department in 2015.

Gender Discrimination

Along with its minimum wage issues, MLB and its teams were also hit with two potentially embarrassing gender discrimination lawsuits in 2014. First, the New York Mets’ former senior vice president for ticket sales, Leigh Castergine, filed suit against the franchise and its chief operating officer, Jeff Wilpon, in September. The lawsuit accuses the team of unlawfully discriminating against Castergine after she became pregnant out of wedlock in 2013.

In particular, Castergine alleges that Wilpon told colleagues that he was “morally opposed” to Castergine having a child without being married. Wilpon is also accused of harassing Castergine by checking to see if she was wearing an engagement ring in front of her colleagues, and telling her that she would get a raise and bigger bonuses if she were to get married. Later, when Castergine returned to work after giving birth, Wilpon allegedly told her that her performance wasn’t meeting expectations, but that he’d let her finish out the year if she promised not to sue for discrimination. When Castergine complained to the team’s human resources department, she was fired.

For their part, the Mets and Wilpon have denied discriminating against Castergine, instead asserting that she was fired for “legitimate business reasons.” In particular, the team points to personality conflicts between Castergine and other company executives as the reason her job was terminated, conflicts that allegedly pre-dated her becoming pregnant. Castergine’s complaint had anticipated that the defendants would attack her job performance, and counters these allegations by pointing out that she was rewarded with six-figure bonuses, raises and a promotion during her four years with the team.

The suit is currently in the discovery phase, when the parties collect the documents and sworn testimony they will use at trial. Sooner or later, though, one would expect that the Mets will try to settle the case – assuming Castergine is willing – as the discovery process threatens to reveal all sorts of embarrassing information about the team’s ownership and management (neither of which, frankly, need any more bad publicity).

In addition to the Castergine case, MLB faced another potentially embarrassing discrimination suit in 2014. In December, Sylvia Lind – MLB’s director of baseball initiatives and highest-ranking Hispanic female employee – sued the league, Commissioner Bud Selig, and MLB’s executive vice president of baseball development, Hall of Famer Frank Robinson, for gender discrimination.

Lind’s suit alleges that she has been repeatedly passed over for promotions in favor of less qualified and often less experienced male candidates throughout her 19 years working for MLB. For example, when Lind’s former boss was fired by MLB in 2012, Lind says that she was never considered as a replacement for the job, despite her extensive experience in the office. Instead, MLB hired Robinson, who Lind contends lacked the experience and educational background necessary to assume the position.

Lind asserts that this mistreatment continued under Robinson. Her suit states that Robinson repeatedly promoted a less experienced and less qualified male employee over her, while unfairly criticizing Lind’s work performance. For instance, in her most legally damaging allegation, Lind asserts that Robinson told her, “Sometimes you have to hire a man because there are places women can’t go.”

MLB has not yet responded to the lawsuit in court. However, one would expect that the league will vigorously contest Lind’s allegations. MLB will likely argue that Lind’s lack of advancement was due to inadequate job performance, not sexism or racism. For instance, Lind’s complaint acknowledges that she had received several negative performance evaluations from Robinson. Lind assert that Robinson intentionally misrepresented the quality of her actual performance in order to justify his discriminatory treatment of her. MLB will undoubtedly argue to the contrary.

As with the Castergine case, MLB will probably consider settling the suit with Lind. Even if the league truly believes it has not discriminated against her, the prospect of potentially lengthy and embarrassing discovery proceedings in the case may be enough to motivate MLB to resolve the suit out of court. Whether Lind would be open to such a settlement, though, remains to be seen.

Nathaniel Grow is an Associate Professor of Business Law and Ethics and the Yormark Family Director of the Sports Industry Workshop at Indiana University's Kelley School of Business. He is the author of Baseball on Trial: The Origin of Baseball's Antitrust Exemption, as well as a number of sports-related law review articles. You can follow him on Twitter @NathanielGrow. The views expressed are solely those of the author and do not express the views or opinions of Indiana University.

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9 years ago

Mets will try to settle the case – assuming Castergine is willing – as the discovery process threatens to reveal all sorts of embarrassing information about the team’s ownership and management (neither of which, frankly, need any more bad publicity).

I disagree about the Mets ownership not needing more bad publicity. These bloodsucking, criminal weirdos rather obviously need a lot more bad publicity since what has been transmitted to the public has not been enough to get rid of them.

Unfortunately, all attorneys are looking for a settlement. Juries do not give out big payouts at trial, juries do not acquit defendants charged with crimes. Perhaps in TV shows juries behave this way or on fascist talk radio, but the actual statistics show that juries have a fascist, law enforcement, bloodsucking pro-business mentality.

Hey, what happened to the Nationals – Orioles TV contract dispute? Part three?

Stank Asten
9 years ago
Reply to  Free_AEC

Those ‘actual statistics’ which show that juries are fascist bloodsuckers–and which you helpfully cite–are probably skewed by survivor bias. There are many reasons why parties settle cases, and wanting to pay more damages is not one of them.

I don't care what anyone
9 years ago
Reply to  Free_AEC

Hey Free_AEC: you know, if you didn’t load up your comments with throwaway words like “fascist” and “bloodsucking”, people might actually read through your posts to ponder your food for thought. An unapologetic capitalist like myself can still recognize that MLB, with its anti-trust exemption and other well-lobbied-for perks, may very well indeed be a safe haven festering with corrupt shysters who leech rather than add value to society.

But I would not conflate being “pro-business” with “bloodsucking”. And especially if you are trying to establish a valid point about any law-related shenanigans involving the exclusive club of MLB owners. It just makes you sound like an extremist ranter.

Some Dude
9 years ago

Yeah, I’d say that talk radio is up there as one of the greatest scourges humanity has ever foisted upon the world, but even I’d have trouble equating it to fascism.

I’d be interested in your points if you eschewed the hyperbole and stuck to straight facts and cogent points. If you’re going to call people criminals, you better be able to back it up, otherwise you’re just libeling and just as much a criminal as anyone.

9 years ago
Reply to  Some Dude

but even I’d have trouble equating it to fascism.





Kelly Thomas beaten to death on this video by cops as he cried for his father

Choked to death by NYPD on video

This is what happens when the cops do take prisoners

I know what fascism looked like in the 1930’s.

My calendar says 2014 is almost over. Fascism however, is not over.

That is perfectly clear.

Hope you figure it out…soon.

In the meantime I’ll try to cut down on my usage of “fascist” and “bloodsucker”.

Some Dude
9 years ago
Reply to  Some Dude

I mean, maybe I’m thinking capital F fascism, but I’m not sure what those links seem to say. There are people who speak out against police abuse and there are police who abuse…isn’t the ability to have a conversation about that the very opposite of fascism? I’m not advocating a position either way, just saying that people have ample opportunity to voice opinions about any governmental positions.

Again, I think we’re on the same side here…billionaires being sketchy is a problem, but that’s generally what they do. I’d hate to see your message confused by your rhetoric, but keep up the conversation and link to evidence if you’re going to call people criminals, I think it’ll make your case much stronger.

9 years ago
Reply to  Some Dude

isn’t the ability to have a conversation about that the very opposite of fascism

No, not at all.

That’s like saying George Orwell’s nightmare “1984” didn’t come true because the TV cameras have only spread to lamp posts in major cities.

It’s 2014. There have been massive technological changes in society that did not exist six to eight decades in the past.

Fascism is a concept that does not need specific uniforms or specific rhetoric. The concept is that elites have special privileges enforced by military and police who are central to the everyday life of the public both in their presence and through state propaganda.

“Take Me Out to the Ballgame” has been replaced in MLB with singing cops and soldiers in uniform belting out the fascist hymn “God Bless America”.

Those three incidents above with linked videos are just three of hundreds over the past couple of years. Police in the USA are now an active death squad. No cop can be successfully prosecuted for murder even when their capital crime is captured on video.

America has five percent of the world’s people, but has twenty-five percent of the world’s prisoners.

America is a third world country occupied by the Pentagon. Like any country invaded and occupied by the Pentagon, the USA is divided into Green Zones, No-Go Zones and Nowhere Zones.