Monday, August 31, 2015
The district court granted MLB an initial victory in the Chen case last year, determining that FanFest was not subject to the FLSA and therefore was immune from the federal minimum wage and overtime requirements. Now, in a recent decision issued earlier this month, MLB has scored yet another victory with the Second Circuit Court of Appeals affirming the trial court’s finding that the FLSA does not apply to FanFest.
However, while the Chen decision certainly represents an important decision with respect to the rights of FanFest volunteers, the appellate court’s recent opinion appears unlikely to have a significant impact on the other minimum-wage lawsuits pending against the league. Therefore, the various lawsuits challenging both MLB’s minor league and scout pay practices remain very much alive despite the recent rulings in the FanFest case.
The appellate court based its recent decision in the FanFest case on a relatively obscure provision in the FLSA, Section 213(a)(3), which states that seasonal “amusement or recreational establishments” — typically those that operate seven months or less per year — are not subject to the law’s minimum wage or overtime provisions.
In particular, MLB had argued that the 2013 FanFest at issue in the case qualified as a seasonal establishment under Section 213(a)(e) since it lasted five days, and clearly provided patrons with amusement or recreational services. Thus, MLB argued, FanFest was immune from the FLSA’s minimum wage and overtime requirements.
Wednesday, July 29, 2015
While many fans are aware that baseball is generally exempt from antitrust law, fewer realize that courts have adopted widely divergent views regarding the extent to which MLB’s operations are actually shielded from the law. For instance, just because MLB is generally immune from antitrust law does not mean that a court would necessarily give the league free reign to engage in anti-competitive practices in areas completely unrelated to professional baseball (such as if, for example, MLB Advanced Media — the league’s digital content distribution company — were to enter into a price-fixing scheme with other non-sports-related, Internet-streaming-video service providers).
Courts have traditionally disagreed regarding where to draw the line between MLB’s exempt and non-exempt conduct, and thus are deeply divided over the extent to which they will allow antitrust lawsuits to proceed against MLB. As a practical matter, then, anyone wishing to sue MLB under antitrust law may be able to do so – despite the league’s antitrust exemption – so long as they file their case in the right court…
That having been said, there may be some cases where this sort of forum shopping is not possible. In the San Jose lawsuit against MLB, for instance, the city had to file its case in a local court, even though California judges have traditionally adopted a broad view of baseball’s exemption.
In contrast, the plaintiffs’ lawyer in the recently filed suit challenging MLB’s scout hiring and pay practices wisely elected to file the case in New York, a jurisdiction that has historically viewed the exemption much more narrowly (as reflected in the decisions discussed above involving MLB’s television broadcasting and umpire relations). As a result, it would not be surprising if the New York court allows the antitrust portion of the case to move forward, despite baseball’s exemption.
Tuesday, July 07, 2015
Who would ever believe teams would collude to suppress pay?
In a new class action lawsuit filed last week in New York federal court, former Kansas City Royals scout Jordan Wyckoff contends that MLB teams have unlawfully agreed not to compete with one another for the services of their amateur and professional scouts. As a result, the suit – Wyckoff v. Office of the Commissioner of Baseball – asserts that a number of MLB scouts currently make less than the minimum wage and are not paid overtime, even when working more than 40 hours in a given week.
Wyckoff alleges that these practices not only violate the FLSA, but that they fail to comply with both federal and state antitrust law as well.
Wyckoff’s complaint (available here) begins by accusing MLB and its teams of forming an illegal conspiracy to decrease the competition for scouts. In particular, the lawsuit contends that MLB prevents its teams from negotiating with or hiring away any scout currently under contract with another franchise, unless that team has expressly granted the scout permission to talk with other clubs. Wyckoff asserts that teams will typically only grant permission in cases where the new franchise would be giving the scout a promotion (such as by hiring another team’s area scout as one of its cross-checkers), and alleges that even then teams have been known to fire a scout simply for requesting permission to talk to another club.
Similarly, the lawsuit also notes that whenever a high-level executive is hired away from one franchise by another — such as when the Padres hired A.J. Preller from Texas last year — the two teams will often agree that the departing executive will not bring other employees (including scouts) with him from his former employer.
Monday, July 06, 2015
See, when someone, say, fellow SB Nation “blogger” Grant Brisbee, posts something as innocuous as a Vine of a silly happening during a baseball game—I have no idea what it was as you can see below—the post is targeted for removal because By Jove! One of these Internet Types is stealing our banwebs! Delete the pictures and return the stolen files, although it was probably something that never would have made it onto any of MLB’s social media accounts which are notoriously ill-equipped for sharing content on the new media platform which functions on instantaneous connectivity upon which they are found….
Now what we should not do is argue for the right to set up our own little broadcasting channels in order to subvert the arm of MLB Advanced Media, who are, admittedly, trying to figure out how best to navigate this ever-changing new media network. What we should do, though, is read about how the league is trying desperately to hold onto an outdated model of ubiquitous market control in an era where television networks—television networks!—have learned to let an audience with money in its pockets use and share their product amongst themselves for free advertising.
We should wonder why MLB refuses to make 90% of their highlight videos embeddable until a day after the game airs, when studies have regularly shown that emotion is one of the most powerful tools by which to make online content go viral. Emotion, which by the way easily wanes after Nelson Cruz’ hilarious awkward slide home gathers almost 24 hours between its original posting and its availability to be embedded through MLB’s official channels. They are literally leaving money on the table.
The real question the court needs to answer is how to pronounce “GIFs”!
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