A lawsuit filed by three former minor league baseball players against Major League Baseball in federal court in San Francisco appears to be the nation's first attempted class-action case claiming the players aren't paid the minimum wage, their lawyer said Tuesday.
Attorney Daniel Warshaw said he knew of no similar cases and said he thinks the reason players have previously hesitated to sue is a fear of retaliation that would bar them from rising to major league teams.
"Current minor league players would never do anything to jeopardize their shot for the majors," Warshaw said. "It's time for the system to change and for these folks to make a living."
The lawsuit was filed Feb. 7 by former farm team members Oliver Odle of the San Francisco Giants, Aaron Senne of the Miami Marlins and Michael Liberto of the Kansas City Royals.
It says most minor leaguers are paid between $3,000 and $7,500 per year for 50- to 70-hour workweeks during the five-month championship season and aren't paid at all for required work during spring training and other times of year.
The lawsuit alleges their pay violates federal and state minimum wage and overtime laws. It asks to be handled as a class action, or group lawsuit, on behalf of all players who worked in the minor leagues during the past three years.
The case would have to be certified as a class action by a judge in order to proceed as a group lawsuit. Warshaw said a decision on class certification could be months or a year away.
In addition to the MLB, defendants named in the lawsuit are Commissioner Bud Selig and the Giants, Marlins and Royals franchises.
MLB spokesman Pat Courtney said, "Since we are in litigation, we cannot comment." A San Francisco Giants spokeswoman referred requests for comment to Courtney.
The lawsuit asks for an injunction requiring the MLB and the franchises to comply with federal and state wage laws, plus an award of back minimum wage and overtime pay.
After being drafted by a major league franchise, minor leaguers, who are typically between 18 and 22 years old, are required to sign a standard seven-year contract, according to the lawsuit.
During those seven years, they can't voluntarily leave to play for any other franchise, although their original MLB team can assign them to a different one.
"Given that MLB carefully controls the entryway into the highest levels of baseball, and given the young minor leaguer's strong desire to enter the industry, MLB and the defendants have exploited minor leaguers by paying salaries below minimum wage, by not paying overtime wages, and by often paying no wages at all," the lawsuit claims.