• Landis Barber

Senne v. MLB Reaches Settlement Agreement


Image via LawInSport.com


As first reported by Evan Drellich, Senne, et al. v. MLB, et al. has reached a settlement. Before the parties finalize the settlement, the court must approve the settlement, and the plaintiffs must give members of the class an opportunity to be excluded. For now, the settlement appears to be a win for both minor leaguers and Major League Baseball (MLB).


Brief Background


Originally filed in 2014, Senne is a Class Action lawsuit on behalf of thousands of minor league baseball players that were not paid during spring training or received salaries below the poverty line. The lawsuit has had multiple amended Complaints and multiple Class certifications, including the current classes encompassing players from California, Arizona, and Florida, with allegations of violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and state minimum wage laws in California, Arizona, and Florida (Florida and Arizona are the locations for Spring Training).


Back in March, Judge Joseph C. Spero, United States District Judge for the Northern District of California, ruled that minor league baseball players are year-round employees, and the MLB and minor league teams are joint employers of minor leaguers. Due to their employee status, travel time to away games is compensable under FLSA, Florida, and Arizona law, and travel time to away games is compensable for California League players under California law.


In the same ruling, Judge Spero found that Major League Baseball (MLB) violated Arizona state minimum wage law and failed to comply with California wage requirements. For failing to comply with California state law, Judge Spero awarded $1,882,650 in penalties but did not set the damages for violating Arizona state law.


Takeaways


As expected, Judge Spero’s ruling spurred settlement discussions to avoid a lengthy, public trial that would showcase the harsh conditions of minor leaguers. While avoiding a public trial is one win for the MLB, another win is avoiding a ruling that chips away at the MLB’s exemption from FLSA via the Save America’s Pastime Act.


For minor leaguers, any settlement will include more money. In addition, it likely comes with other forms of guarantees to improve conditions for minor leaguers. Note, among the victories for minor leaguers, starting this season, the MLB required teams to provide housing for minor leaguers. Expect any settlement to add further gains to living conditions.


What is Next?


Under Rule 23 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, there must be a hearing for approval of the proposed settlement, and the plaintiffs must give members of the classes an opportunity to be excluded. Per Evan Drellich, the plaintiffs are requesting until July 11 to file a motion for preliminary approval. Therefore, it will take some time for the parties to finalize the settlement.


After 8 years, it appears that minor leaguers are on the cusp of a significant legal victory, which potentially includes higher salaries and improved living conditions. With it, the MLB avoids a public trial and a ruling that could chip away at the Save America’s Pastime Act. Thus, both sides walk away with an opportunity to craft a new future for minor league players and Major League Baseball.


Landis Barber is an attorney at Safran Law Offices in Raleigh, North Carolina. You can connect with him via LinkedIn or via his blog offthecourtdocket.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Landisbarber.