Judge dismisses scouts' lawsuit against Major League Baseball

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A federal judge on Thursday dismissed a lawsuit accusing Major League Baseball’s 30 teams of conspiring not to poach each other’s scouts and refusing to pay them overtime.

Citing baseball’s longstanding antitrust exemption, U.S. District Judge Paul Gardephe in Manhattan dismissed class action claims by Jordan Wyckoff and Darwin Cox, former scouts for the Kansas City Royals and Colorado Rockies, respectively.

According to the complaint, the teams colluded to reduce competition by agreeing not to cold-call or otherwise recruit each other’s scouts without their employers’ permission, and misclassifying scouts as exempt from federal wage-and-hour laws.

Suing on behalf of an estimated 1,600 scouts, the plaintiffs sought to avoid baseball’s 94-year-old federal antitrust exemption by saying that the protection encompassed only player contracts and “league structure.”

But the judge said the employment relationship between scouts and teams was central to the “business of baseball,” and thus fell within the exemption.

“Because scouts’ work has a direct and critical effect on the selection of players who will participate in the games that the public will watch, their role cannot be characterized as ‘wholly collateral’ or ‘incidental’ to the business of professional baseball,” Gardephe wrote.

The judge also dismissed antitrust claims under New York’s Donnelly Act.

Gardephe said Wyckoff may pursue a wage-and-hour claim against the Royals alone, but not against other teams because there was no showing that they harmed him. Cox did not pursue a wage-and-hour claim.

Lawyers for the plaintiffs did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Lawyers for Major League Baseball, its teams and Commissioner Rob Manfred did not immediately respond to similar requests.

The case is Wyckoff v Office of the Commissioner of Baseball et al, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, No. 15-05186.

Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by Bernard Orr