Former Missouri Tigers among former minor league players to wage lawsuit against MLB

Monday, March 3, 2014 | 8:22 p.m. CST; updated 11:13 p.m. CST, Monday, March 3, 2014

COLUMBIA — Three former minor league baseball players, including two former Missouri Tigers, filed a lawsuit last month in a San Francisco federal court, accusing Major League Baseball of suppressing “minor leaguers’ wages in violation of federal and state law.”

The suit said “most minor leaguers earn between $3,000 and $7,500 for the entire year,” despite the fact that they routinely work more than 50 hours per week.

Lead plaintiff Aaron Senne, who spent four seasons in the Miami Marlins' minor league system, alleged in the suit that the team failed “to meet minimum wage standards.” Senne, the Marlins’ 10th-round selection in the 2010 MLB draft, estimated he was compensated $3,000 in 2010, $3,000 in 2011, $7,000 in 2012 and $3,000 in 2013. The suit also noted the former Missouri first baseman and outfielder received a one-time signing bonus of $25,000 and two semesters’ worth of compensation in a college scholarship fund as an incentive for signing his seven-year deal.

Former Missouri infielder Michael Liberto and Oklahoma State product Oliver Odle, the other two plaintiffs listed in the lawsuit, made similar allegations against the Kansas City Royals and San Francisco Giants, respectively.

“This suit is long overdue,” the plaintiffs’ attorney, Garrett Broshuis, said in a phone interview last week. “The salaries that minor leaguers are earning make it very difficult to live in a meaningful way.”

Broshuis, an attorney with the St. Louis-based firm Korein Tillery, pitched for Missouri from 2001-2004 and spent six years in the Giants’ farm system. Broshuis said the contract minor leaguers sign with MLB teams – the Uniform Player Contract – allows teams to compensate minor leaguers only during the season — a five-month window. Despite not receiving a monthly paycheck, players are still expected to train, attend meetings and fulfill team obligations year-round. Part of the problem, Broshuis said, is minor league players have failed in their efforts to unionize.

“There is no union and there is nothing to combat the overwhelming bargaining power the MLB and its owners have,” Broshuis said Sunday. “When you are chasing a dream, you’re very reluctant to upset the status quo. Just like you have that great disparity and bargaining power that’s led to these low wages, you have guys reluctant to do anything about it.”

To Broshuis’ knowledge, this is the first suit of its kind filed against the MLB, which declined to comment on the ongoing litigation. This was not, however, the first suit accusing a professional sports league of wage abuse.

In January, cheerleaders for the Oakland Raiders – known as Raiderettes — filed a lawsuit against the team that alleged low pay. A month later, cheerleaders for the Cincinnati Bengals followed suit. Sharon Vinick, the attorney representing the Raiderettes in the suit, said she sees similarities between NFL cheerleaders and minor league players.

“With any of these professions, it’s not like being a stock broker,” Vinick said by telephone Monday. “There’s a certain amount of subjective determination that determines these types of careers. A lot of these athletes feel like if they are involved in a suit like this, it could be the end of their careers.”

Broshuis said he anticipates more players being added to the suit. Before the suit can make any sort of impact, though, a judge must certify it as a class-action lawsuit.

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