Second Circuit Affirms Ruling Dismissing MLB Umpire’s Racial Discrimination Suit

Sep 22, 2023

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit has affirmed the decision of a district court to dismiss a racial discrimination lawsuit brought by umpire Ángel Hernández (“Hernández”) against Major League Baseball (“MLB”).

By way of background, Hernández filed a lawsuit against the MLB and Commissioner Rob Manfred in 2017, alleging racial discrimination against minority umpires.

Hernández’ lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Cincinnati, came on the heels of two discrimination charges he filed against MLB with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The lawsuit claimed violations of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 as well as Ohio state law. 

A native of Cuba, Hernández, 55, began his MLB career as a part-time umpire in 1993 and was promoted to a full-time position in 1995.

Hernández alleged in his lawsuit that MLB discriminates against minorities in promotion and post-season assignments, which carry additional compensation and prestige. The lawsuit also claimed that although Hernández was made a temporary crew chief in 2005 and 2012, the assignment was never made permanent even though he applied for the promotion on four occasions. Hernández also alleged he has been passed over several times for a chance to work the World Series despite high marks on evaluations. As a result, the lawsuit sought back pay and unspecified compensatory damages from the league.

One allegation in the complaint is that MLB has only promoted one minority umpire, a Hispanic, to permanent crew chief in the history of the game and Hernández claimed only one non-white umpire has worked a World Series since 2011. Hernández alleged he has seen “other, less experienced, generally white umpires” promoted ahead of him. 

In the lawsuit, Hernández stated his performance ratings were solid until 2011 but declined thereafter. That’s when former New York Yankees manager Joe Torre was named MLB’s Chief Baseball Officer, a position that includes oversight of the league’s umpires. Hernández and Torre have history and Hernández claimed in his complaint that “Torre’s general negative attitude” towards him “permeated (the umpire’s) yearly evaluations.” The suit cited language in performance evaluations since Torre assumed his position, which mirror comments Torre made against Hernández when he was managing the Yankees.

The lawsuit stated that “the selection of these less qualified, white individuals over Hernández was motivated by racial, national origin and/or ethnic considerations.” 

District Court Ruling and the Appeal

In March of 2021, the district court granted MLB’s motion for summary judgment. In regard to the disparate claims set forth by Hernández, the court found that the plaintiff failed to demonstrate that there were genuine issues of material fact proving the MLB proffered reasons for not promoting the plaintiff to crew chief based on the foundation and reasoning of discrimination. More specifically, while addressing the disparate impact claims established by the plaintiff the court determined that a failure to demonstrate that disparity existed, that there was a causal connection between the process and disparity, and that there existed an alternative practice for choosing crew chiefs that would satisfy MLB’s business needs without inflicting discrimination as required by the case law.

The plaintiff then appealed.

In affirming, the panel of circuit court judges wrote that “Hernández has failed to establish a statistically significant disparity between the promotion rates of white and minority umpires.

“MLB has provided persuasive expert evidence demonstrating that, during the years at issue, the difference in crew chief promotion rates between white and minority umpires was not statistically significant. Hernández offers no explanation as to why MLB’s statistical evidence is unreliable.”

“Hernández has failed to show that the criteria Torre used in making crew chief promotion decisions caused the existing disparity between white and minority crew chiefs,” the panel wrote. “Hernández has made no showing that Torre harbors a bias against racial minorities.”

Hernández v. MLB; 2d Cir; No. 22-343; 8/15/23

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