Best Ohio Wage and Overtime Attorney Answer: What is an FLSA collective action? Whatever happened to those minor league baseball players who were suing for unpaid minimum wage and overtime? Can I recover all of the overtime my employer failed to pay me since I started working for him?
As our wage and hour attorneys recently blogged about, a number of current and former minor league baseball players are alleging that Major League Baseball and its minor leagues have violated the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA“) and a number of state wage laws. (See As A Seasonal Employee, Can I Be Paid Less Than Minimum Wage And No Overtime? I Need A Lawyer!; What Can I Do About Wage Theft Violations? I Need The Best Lawyer Reply!). The FLSA, as a regular reader of our wage and hour lawyers‘ blog will know, requires that covered, non-exempt employees be paid at a rate of at least $7.25 an hour, plus time and one-half their regular hourly rates for all hours worked beyond forty per workweek.
In Senne v. MLB, the employee ballplayers allege that they were paid “illegally low wages during the championship season, no overtime wages, and no wages for work performed outside the championship season.” The players contend that the MLB and its clubs violated the FLSA, as well as similar state wage and hour laws in eight states, by paying them a total of only $3,000 to $7,000 over a five-month season despite their working from 50 hours to 70 hours each week.
A successful FLSA claim can be extremely costly for a defendant employer. For starters, the FLSA provides that a successful plaintiff may recover liquidated damages, in addition to back pay, as well as attorney fees and the costs of litigation. Additionally, the FLSA allows an aggrieved employee to bring suit not only on his own behalf but also on behalf of similarly situated employees.
In any given year there are well over 2,000 active minor league players. Because the FLSA allows a plaintiff to recoup damages as far as three years back from the date he files a complaint, if the violation is willful, Senne, as a collective action, would involve a huge number of plaintiffs and a loss for MLB would be disastrous. Not surprisingly, baseball is doing all that it can to prevent Senne from going forward as a collective action
In most federal circuits, determining whether to allow an FLSA case to proceed is a two-step process. At the first step, known as conditional certification, the court applies a fairly lenient standard and if the court determines that the plaintiffs have made a modest factual showing that the putative class members are similarly situated, the court allows plaintiffs to send notices to prospective class members, informing them of the case and allowing those individuals the chance to opt-in as class members. After discovery is complete, the defendant can file a motion to decertify the class. At this second stage, the court looks at the evidence and must determine if the class members are actually similarly-situated and whether the case should be allowed to go to trial as a collective action.
In June, the plaintiffs in Senne filed a motion for conditional certification. Supporting their motion, plaintiffs introduced declarations from forty minor leaguers stating that they all play a similar schedule during the season, have similar game day duties, are required to engage in similar travel, and are required to perform similar off-season training. Additionally, the plaintiffs pointed out that all minor leaguers are subject to the same Minor League Uniform Player Contract (“UPC”). The UPC sets the yearly salary for all first year players. While the UPC allows clubs to negotiate salary terms with individual players after year one, all players are subject to the same UPC provisions regarding length of contract. Additionally, the UPC requires that players only be paid during the regular season.
MLB argued that each player performs different work based on his particular team, position and skill level. Baseball further argued that during the off-season, for which players are not paid anything, each player performs individualized training. MLB also argued that the UPC is meant only as a guideline and that the actual determinations about how much time players must put in and how they are compensated is left to individual teams.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Joseph Spero rejected MLB’s arguments and is allowing the case to proceed as a conditionally certified action through discovery. Important to Judge Spero’s finding of similarity among the potential class was the UPC, “…which requires players to work for a fixed salary regardless of the number of hours worked, resulting in compensation that falls below the minimum wage because of the long hours they are required to work during the championship season. The Court finds that Plaintiffs’ allegations that they are subject to a uniform policy that results in failure to meet the minimum wage requirements of the FLSA are substantial . . . Therefore, conditional certification is warranted as to this claim.”
In response to the ruling, Garrett Broshius, a lawyer for the players said, “We believed and continue to believe that this is a perfect case for proceeding in a collective manner due to the uniform practices that are led by MLB and that cascade down to all of MLB’s franchises. There are uniform practices across the board that affect every minor-leaguer in the proposed collective.”
While this case may be an outlier in terms of the size of the potential class, it is an important example of why employers are so frightened by FLSA collective actions. Current and former minor leaguers, whose playing careers include any of the seasons since 2011, will be notified of their eligibility by mail and will have 90 days to opt into the lawsuit. One source indicated that opt-in notices could be sent to as many as 10,000 individuals. A large collective class, combined with the doubling effect of the FLSA’s liquidated damages provision and the award of attorney fees and costs to a prevailing plaintiff, can turn a relatively small amount of unpaid overtime or minimum wages into a staggering liability for an employer who doesn’t play by the rules.
If you believe that your employer is not paying you all of your wages for all of your lawfully earned overtime compensation at a rate of one and half times your normal wages as requires under the Federal Fair Labor Standards Act or Ohio Minimum Fair Wage Standards laws or you are an nonexempt employee that has been misclassified as exempt or independent contractor, contact the attorneys at The Spitz Law Firm today for a free and confidential initial consultation. The wage and hour lawyers at The Spitz Law Firm will provide you with the best options for your overtime pay dispute situation. If you even think that you may be entitled to overtime pay that you are not being paid, call 866-797-6040.
The materials available at the top of this overtime, wage and hour web page and at this employment law website are for informational purposes only and not for the purpose of providing legal advice. If you are still asking, “Am I entitled to overtime?”, “Does my job have to pay me for …”, “My paycheck is not right…” or “What do I do if…”, the your best option is to contact an Ohio overtime attorney to obtain advice with respect to FLSA questions or any particular employment law issue. Use and access to this employment law website or any of the links contained within the site do not create an attorney-client relationship. The legal opinions expressed at the top of this page or through this site are the opinions of the individual lawyer and may not reflect the opinions of The Spitz Law Firm, Brian Spitz, or any individual attorney.