Major League Baseball illegally employed thousands of unpaid volunteers at for-profit events, including last month’s All-Star FanFest in New York City, in violation of federal and state minimum wage laws, Outten & Golden LLP alleged today in New York federal court.
The class action complaint, filed on behalf of John Chen, of Rego Park, N.Y., accuses MLB, which has annual revenues of about $7 billion, of failing to pay workers minimum wages required by the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and the New York Labor Law (NYLL).
The lawsuit seeks to force MLB to stop soliciting and accepting work from unpaid volunteers, to allow those who cannot afford to work for free to work at FanFest and other events, and to recover wages for all unpaid volunteers who worked at FanFest and related events since August 7, 2007. The lawsuit alleges MLB also violated labor laws at the 2012 All-Star FanFest in Kansas City, the 2011 All-Star FanFest in Phoenix, and the 2008 All-Star FanFest in New York with use of unpaid volunteers.
Justin M. Swartz, Juno Turner, and Michael N. Litrownik of Outten & Golden’s New York office represent Mr. Chen.
Mr. Swartz said, “Major League Baseball should be forced to pay minimum wages to the workers who assist in making FanFest a hit every year. It should not get a free pass like a nonprofit organization or a charity.”
The five-day 2013 All-Star Weekend was sponsored by at least 15 major U.S. corporations. According to MLB, this year’s All-Star game and related events brought approximately $191.5 million into the New York City economy. MLB billed FanFest sponsorships as the “ideal venue to leverage the most eagerly awaited fan experience of the summer.”
Mr. Chen, who worked at New York City-area MLB events in June and July, said, “I very much enjoyed working at FanFest, but the minimum wage laws are important. People who cannot afford to work for free should be able to have the same experience I had. I hope Major League Baseball will now change its policy and pay FanFest workers as they pay others who help MLB produce successful events.”
Mr. Swartz added, “We hope that tagging MLB with this lawsuit will clean up its practices and lead other sports leagues to make the same call. It would be a win if MLB followed the ground rules that apply to other businesses. When companies save money by accepting unpaid work, wages everywhere slide.”
The lawsuit asserts that unpaid volunteers were required to attend mandatory orientations and information sessions, work multiple shifts, and submit to background checks but were paid no wages.
Outten & Golden LLP will seek to have the lawsuit certified as a class action to recover unpaid wages, interest, and attorneys’ fees and costs for unpaid volunteers.
This case is “John Chen, et al., v. Major League Baseball, et al.,” No. 13 Civ. 5494, in the U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York. The defendants are MLB, Major League Baseball Properties, The Office of the Commissioner of Baseball, doing business as Major League Baseball, and Major League Baseball Enterprises, Inc.
Contacts: Justin M. Swartz or Juno Turner, Outten & Golden LLP, 212.245.1000.