In a 100+ page opinion, federal Magistrate Judge Joseph Spero of the Northern District of California refused to grant the Plaintiffs’ motion to certify a class of minor league baseball players and instead granted the baseball clubs’ motion to de-certify. As noted in a previous blog post by my colleague, Matt Miller, minor league players across the country have filed numerous suits claiming they are paid only during the actual championship playing season (what some would call the regular schedule of games in the summer and fall), and were not adequately compensated for other activities like spring training, instructional leagues, winter workouts or other mandatory work performed outside the championship season.
The California Plaintiffs claimed that a class was proper because Major League Baseball and its franchises had uniform contracts and policies that applied to everyone. The Plaintiffs’ motion attempted to consolidate claims filed in California, Florida, Arizona, North Carolina, New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland and Oregon.
The baseball clubs opposed the motion by arguing that differences among the players’ circumstances precluded them from meeting the class certification requirements. The Court agreed. The opinion notes that the minor league players engaged in a wide variety of activities during the off-season to stay in top playing condition and there is not a good way to determine if and where the workouts occurred and whether the clubs monitored those activities.
The very nature of those activities also varied greatly from player to player and it was too difficult to determine if each activity constituted compensable “work” under the statute. The Court ultimately determined that these wide variations in the type of off-season workouts was fatal to the players’ certification efforts. Specifically, the Court found “that the collective members are not similarly situated and that adjudicating the FLSA on a collective basis will be unmanageable.” It is important to note that this does not end the suit; it simply means that it will have to proceed as individual actions and not as a class.
While this opinion may be interesting to those of us that love America’s Pastime, it also has implications for other employers. Some argue that recent court decisions indicate a trend toward more certifications of class actions. This opinion provides a very good (and long) roadmap as to what is required for that to happen. The wide variation among the plaintiffs’ activities are not unique to baseball. Many industries have workers that share a job title, but their day-to-day work is different from location to location. Documentation of those variations may be ample ammunition to avoid a collective action in the future—at least under the FLSA.