With $185M Settlement Between MLB And Minor Leaguers, League Continues Battle To Save Antitrust Exemption

Major League Baseball reached a $185 million settlement in a class action lawsuit with former Minor League players. The move continues to show that the league will feverishly work to avoid having its antitrust exemption lifted.

Filings in a California courtroom on Friday showed that the lawsuit filed eight years ago had been settled. Of the $185 million, $120,197,300 will go to the players with the balance covering legal fees.

The court case saw former minor leaguers Aaron Senne, Michael Liberto, and Oliver Odle file the class action lawsuit in 2014.

In a filing for the players, the case was laid out as to why the class action suit had merit.

“Through this collective exercise of power, MLB has suppressed minor leaguers’ wages in violation of federal and state law. Most minor leaguers earn between around $3,000 and $7,500 for the entire year despite routinely working over 50 hours per week (and sometimes 70 hours per week) during the roughly five-month championship season. They receive no overtime pay, and instead routinely receive less than minimum wage during the championship season.”

The settlement now allows clubs to pay minor league players during spring training, extended spring training, and instructional leagues that take place in Arizona and Florida.

As part of a statement by Advocates For Minor Leaguers that have been driving legal action to improve pay and conditions for minor league players, they drove home a key battleline: antitrust exemption.

“For decades, Major League Baseball’s thirty team owners have openly conspired to underpay Minor League baseball players. Perhaps the most egregious aspect of the Minor League Conspiracy-which is currently being investigated by Congress-is that players are required to provide between 6 and 9 months of free labor each year. Today’s settlement announcement is an acknowledgment of, and an important first step toward remedying, that injustice.”

Major League Baseball has enjoyed antitrust exemption since 1922 when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the league was a “state affair” and not interstate commerce and therefore did not fall under the Sherman Act. Since then, the league’s teams traverse the U.S. and Canada throughout the season.

The league has guarded its rare antitrust exemption by reaching settlements, with the minor league case the latest.

In 2016, the league settled a case in which fans sued the league over blacked-out games in-market. The settlement saw the regional sports networks, as well as Comcast
and DirecTV, offer streaming options for in-market games as a way to prevent the case from going to a New York federal court.

While Advocates For Minor Leaguers could ease off the pressure with the settlement reached over pay, other lawsuits are still pending. When MLB took over Minor League Baseball and shuttered a large number of teams, several owners that were squeezed out filed suit. The Department of Justice weighed in on the case saying that MLB’s antitrust exemption should be “narrowly interrupted” given that the case centers on the Minor Leagues.

Regardless of these cases, more challenges to the league’s antitrust exemption will assuredly continue.

As part of NCAA v. Alston which went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court in 2021, the SC
OTUS said in their ruling that MLB’s antitrust exemption had been looked at critically by the highest court in the land. The U.S. Supreme Court “has even acknowledged criticisms of the decision [in 1922’s Federal Baseball Club of Baltimore, Inc. v. National League of Professional Baseball Clubs “as “‘unrealistic’” and “‘inconsistent’” and “aberration[al].”

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