By Ed Edmonds
Seventeen veteran baseball scouts filed an Age Discrimination in Employment Act (29 U.S.C. §§ 621–634) lawsuit against Commissioner Rob Manfred and all thirty MLB clubs on June 21 in the United States District Court for Colorado. The lawsuit also raised claims under eleven different state laws (Alabama, Arizona, California, Florida, Indiana, Massachusetts, Minnesota, North Carolina, Ohio, Texas, and Utah) and a New York City ordinance.
The crux of the action is that after Manfred succeeded Bud Selig as commissioner in 2015, he initiated a “One Baseball” initiative that included the replacement of older, veteran scouts with younger ones more aligned with newer analytical methods. “In 2020, 2021 and 2022, based on Defendants’ application of Rule 3(k), hundreds of Scouts’ contracts were not renewed or Scouts otherwise had their employment terminated, and the Club Defendants and the MLB Defendants subsequently have acted to prevent the reemployment of Older Scouts or refused the reemployment of Older Scouts.”
Perhaps the most damning assertion in the complaint is that a list of “Older Scouts” was circulated to teams with instruction not to hire anyone on the list. If the plaintiffs can prove the existence of the list effectively blacklisting these veteran scouts, this could be a key component of a successful outcome. Discover will be important in this action because if the plaintiffs can force production of an actual list or depose someone within Major League Baseball, it will put the Commissioner’s Office in a similar position to the Collusion decision involving Commissioner Peter Ueberroth regarding free agents in 1985-1986-1987.
Scouts sign a Uniform Employment Contract much like players sign a Uniform Player Contract. However, unlike players, scouts are not unionized, and, thus, are not accorded the advantages of collective bargaining. However, despite the wording of Rule 3(k) involving tampering not specifically mentioning the coverage of scouts, MLB has applied it to scouts, and in paragraph 67 of the original complaint “allege, upon information and belief, that Defendants have expressly or impliedly agreed that Rule 3(k) applies to Scouts. Defendants have accordingly coordinated their behavior and have implemented a pattern, practice, and de facto rule applicable to Scouts prohibiting communication about job opportunities while a Scout is under contract with a Club” leading in the following paragraph to an assertion that such behavior “inhibits lateral hiring and restrains the Scout labor market.”
Thus, during the COVID-19 years of 2020, 2021, and 2022, while Major League Baseball was suffering revenue losses, they did not renew many of the contracts of senior, experienced, scouts or outright terminated many of the contracts of these older scouts. A quick look at the Chicago Cubs treatment of named plaintiff Jim Benedict illustrates the gravamen of the complaint in this lawsuit. In August 2020, Benedict was informed that his Chicago contract that ran through the end of October would not be renewed even though three years earlier Theo Epstein had trumpeted Cubs hiring of the veteran known as “the pitcher whisperer.” The former minor league pitcher in the mid-1980s had thirty years of experience as a pitching coach, pitching coordinator, scout, and front-office employee. The complaint stated that beyond any attempt by Major League Baseball to argue that these staff cuts were a result of revenue shortfalls, all thirty teams conspired to terminate or refuse to hire an unusually high number of senior, veteran personnel because they were a higher compensated group. The complaint also alleged that the basis for this was that all of these individuals lacked contemporary analytical skills that have swept through MLB teams since the Athletics success with “Moneyball.” However, on an individual basis that was not factually accurate.
Paul Kasabian, writing about the case for Bleacher Report, quoted Rick Ragazzo, who worked for the Braves, Dodgers, and Giants during his 35-year career —
I think the discrimination that baseball has inflicted on veteran scouts is simply wrong, and terribly sad for those who have invested their lives and careers to the sport. When clubs are acting together to profile scouts by age and prevent us from being rehired, it’s very difficult for most to reinvent themselves when approaching the twilight of their professional careers.”
Kasabian also linked to a YouTube video where Jim Benedict argued that “I could have worked so much longer” as well as meetings involving the reduction of head counts. “I’m too old and too expensive” and “I did not fit the profile.”
Alex Vejar interviewed Jeff Scholzen for his Salt Lake Tribune article on the litigation. Scholzen was terminated by the Milwaukee Brewers during the pandemic and told that his contract would not be renewed because of “restructuring due to COVID. According to the complaint, Scholzen, who spent many years scouting for the Angels and Brewers, was turned aside by all thirteen teams he contacted for potential work.
The original magistrate judge assigned to the case was Kristen L. Mix. On August 8, the case was reassigned to Magistrate Judge Kathryn A. Starnella upon her appointment. Judge Starnella was sworn into her office two days later.
Ed Edmonds is a Professor Emeritus of Law at the Notre Dame Law School. His scholarly interests include labor and antitrust issues in baseball.