MLB Hit With Class Action By Unpaid All-Star Volunteers

Law360 Scott Flaherty
September 24, 2014

Major League Baseball was hit Monday in New York state court with a putative class action alleging the league violated state wage laws by failing to pay volunteers who staffed the fan festival surrounding the 2013 all-star game.

John Chen, who volunteered to staff MLB’s All-Star FanFest ” in the summer of 2013, lodged putative class allegations that he and others should have been paid for the tasks they performed during the week-long set of events around the professional baseball league’s all-star game. The 2013 all-star game took place in New York City and, among other events, FanFest included a 5K running race, concert and parade, the suit said.

Chen alleges he and other volunteers who were categorized as hospitality volunteers, ticket takers and greeters, among other roles effectively served as MLB employees during the week of events, but instead of receiving wages, they were offered gifts that did not cover the league’s obligations to pay minimum wage.

Instead of paying volunteers cash wages for their work, MLB, the world’s preeminent professional baseball league with annual revenue of more than $7 billion, provided these volunteers with, among other things, “a shirt, a cap and a cinch drawstring backpack’; free admission for the volunteer and one guest to FanFest; a water bottle; a baseball; and a lanyard,” the suit said.

The suit goes on to allege that MLB could have easily afforded ” to pay all the volunteers who staffed the all-star week events and said that, by not doing so, the league violated the New York Labor Law.

MLB’s failure to pay its volunteers any wages violated federal and state minimum wage laws, which require employers to pay at least the minimum wage for all work that they “suffer or permit,’ ” the suit said. By failing to pay [Chen] and thousands of others for their productive work, MLB denied federal, state and local governments significant tax revenue and denied the volunteers important benefits of working, including workers’ compensation insurance, social security contributions, and, most importantly, the ability to earn a fair day’s wage for a fair day’s work. ”

With the suit, Chen who said he worked about 17 hours during the FanFest week without pay seeks to represent a proposed class of all volunteers during both the 2013 FanFest and the 2008 version of the event, which also took place in New York, according to the complaint.

The suit includes claims for three violations of the NYLL and seeks unpaid wages, damages and attorneys’ fees in connection with the alleged minimum wage violations.

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The volunteers are represented by Justin M. Swartz and Juno Turner of Outten & Golden LLP.

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The case is Chen v. Major League Baseball Properties Inc. et al., case number 652884/2014, in the Supreme Court of the State of New York, New York County.