MLB Settles With Minor Leaguers in Working Hours Pay Lawsuit

Eight years after retired minor league first baseman Aaron Senne and other minor leaguers sued MLB for violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and state laws guaranteeing minimum wage and overtime pay, the parties tentatively settled out of court on Tuesday. The case had been set to go to trial before a federal jury on June 1 in San Francisco. Terms of the settlement have not been released, though they will involve compensation for former minor league players.

“We are pleased to report that the parties have reached a settlement in principle,” Garrett Broshuis, the players’ attorney, told Sportico in a statement. Noting that the settlement is subject to court approval, Broshuis declined further comment. MLB also declined to comment.

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The settlement follows an important ruling in the players’ favor last month in which Judge Joseph Spero granted summary judgment for some of the players’ claims. Most significantly, he deemed that the players are entitled to protection as employees of teams and as joint employees of MLB itself. As a practical matter, the ruling increased the odds that players would convince a jury that they were illegally underpaid and owed back pay.

When the lawsuit was filed in 2014, most MiLB players earned less than $10,000 for a five- or six-month season; in comparison, fast-food workers typically earned $15,000 to $18,000 in a year. The players credibly described themselves as members of the working poor.

MLB, which has improved MiLB pay and other conditions of employment in recent years, insisted that MiLB players are exempt from FLSA protections. The league maintained these players’ employment is analogous to actors, musicians and other “creative professionals.” Spero found the analogy unpersuasive. He also rejected MLB’s arguments that MiLB players ought to be viewed as “trainees” or akin to vocational students. MiLB players, the judge stressed, have employment contracts and are paid to meet job expectations.

At the same time, the players’ case has been constrained by the Save America’s Pastime Act of 2018. The ACT extinguished FLSA protections for minor league players going forward, though players remain eligible for state law protections for minimum wage and overtime pay.

The settlement will govern five categories of MiLB players. The categories vary by whether players played in spring training or instructional leagues in Florida, Arizona and California.

For Broshuis, the case has been at the center of his career—both his legal career and his baseball career. Before attending Saint Louis University School of Law, Broshuis pitched for six years in the San Francisco Giants organization. He rose as high as Triple-A and retired from the game at 27.

While in law school, Broshuis studied how the law might be used to improve low pay for minor leaguers. He reached out to sports law professors, including this correspondent, to develop his ideas.

In 2013, Broshuis published “Touching Baseball’s Untouchables: The Effects of Collective Bargaining on Minor League Baseball Players” in the Harvard Journal of Sports and Entertainment Law, which explored legal strategies for minor league players seeking better pay. MLB enjoys a limited antitrust exemption that precludes antitrust litigation over minor league baseball. But as Broshuis explained, MiLB players who aren’t MLBPA members could still unionize or sue under labor law.

A year later, Broshuis drew from his ideas to construct a labor lawsuit against MLB.

Now 40 and a seasoned attorney at Korein Tillery in St. Louis, Broshuis’ efforts have come full circle.

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