Volunteer Dissatisfied with “Pay,” Files Suit Against MLB

A “volunteer” can be defined as one who offers to provide a service willingly and without pay.  Apparently, one New York resident wants to rewrite the definition of volunteer.  John Chen was one of many persons that volunteered to work for free at Major League Baseball’s 2013 All-Star Fan Fest.  Now, after the fact, Mr. Chen is looking to get paid and has filed suit claiming that MLB violated wage laws. I always thought the minimum wage for volunteers was $0.  Surely, there must be more to this story, right? Allegations of fraud and deception? Broken promises? Nope, there’s nothing of the sort.

Chen volunteered with MLB for five days assisting with tasks that included hospitality, logistics, and transportation. By all accounts, Mr. Chen undertook the endeavor knowing full well that he would not be compensated for his time.  There’s no allegation that he was tricked into volunteering or that MLB made any sorts of promises that weren’t kept.  Nevertheless, the lawsuit filed in federal court alleges that MLB violated federal and state minimum wage laws by failing to pay him and more than 2,000 other volunteers.  Mr. Chen and his attorney have sought class action status and have asked for lost wages.

So what gives?  One frivolous lawsuit begets an onslaught of similar lawsuits.  It just so happens that Mr. Chen’s attorneys, Outten and Golden LLP, recently won a lawsuit against Fox Searchlight seeking pay for interns who had accepted previously unpaid internships. Of course, that case turned on the fact that the interns were regular employees, which is not the case in this lawsuit.
I know I’ll be watching this one closely.  If this suit is successful, I may have some money coming my way from the MS Society, the United Way, and Habitat for Humanity.

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