Major League Baseball is set to pay $185MM to settle the class action lawsuit brought by minor league players nearly a decade ago, as Jeff Passan of ESPN was first to report. Evan Drellich of the Athletic adds (Twitter link) that the league will lift any “contractual prohibitions against (teams) paying minor league players wages” for work outside of regular season play. The agreement is pending final approval from the court.
It’s the culmination of a suit first filed in 2014. Among other aspects of minor league pay, the litigation was concerned with the process of unpaid spring training. MLB came under public fire for arguing for players to remind unpaid for Spring Training as recently as February. That proved unsuccessful, however. The following month, the trial court rejected the league’s argument that minor leaguers were seasonal employees exempted from minimum wage laws.
The case was set for trial on June 1, but the parties came to a settlement agreement in mid-May. Terms were unreported at the time, but the league has apparently agreed to dole out $185MM in backpay. Passan notes that more than $120MM of that figure will be distributed among the class of players involved (with the rest presumably going to court costs and attorneys fees). One of the plaintiffs’ attorneys, former minor leaguer Garrett Broshuis, tells Drellich more than 20,000 players are expected to share those funds.
“This settlement is a monumental step for minor league players toward a fair and just compensation system,” Broshuis said (via Passan). “As a former minor league baseball player, I’ve seen first-hand the financial struggle players face while earning poverty-level wages — or no wages at all — in pursuit of their major league dream. For the better part of a decade, it has been my honor to help lead this fight and to shine a light on the unfair labor practices that have long plagued America’s pastime.”
MLB released a statement of its own. “We are only in the second year of a major overhaul of the 100-year-old player development system and have made great strides to improve the quality of life for minor league players,” a league spokesperson told Passan, referencing a 2021 uptick in minor league salaries and this season’s requirement for teams to provide housing to players. “We are proud that minor league players already receive significant benefits, including free housing, quality health care, multiple meals per day, college tuition assistance for those who wish to continue their education and over $450 million in annual signing bonuses for first-year players. We are pleased we were able to come to a mutually agreeable resolution but are unable to comment on the details until the agreement is formally approved by the Court.”
The proposed lifting of the ban on payment outside of regular season play, meanwhile, has the potential to impact countless of players moving forward. Whether and how many teams will begin to pay minor leaguers for things like Spring Training and instructional league is unclear. Nevertheless, the removal of the ban has to be viewed as a win for groups fighting for better pay for minor leaguers, most of whom are not part of the Major League Baseball Players Association and do not have a union of their own.