Schorr & Associates’ Employment Case of The Week ending July 7, 2017
By Adam Schorr
Hernandez v. The Office of the Commissioner of Baseball, Case No. 1:17-cv-456 (S.D. Ohio, Complaint filed July 3, 2017)
Veteran Major League Baseball umpire Angel Hernandez has filed a Title VII race discrimination case against the MLB and the Commissioner's office alleging race discrimination. Add this to the growing list of questionable calls made by Angel Hernandez.
Angel Hernandez is Cuban and has been an MLB umpire since 1993. From his hiring through 2010, Hernandez received praise from the league office and multiple postseason assignments, including two World Series assignments. In 2011, Joe Torre, a former player and manager, was put in charge of overseeing MLB umpires. According to the Complaint, Torre had a grudge against Hernandez from an incident in May 2001 when Torre insulted Hernandez after a call Torre perceived was incorrect. After Torre took over, Hernandez's evaluations got worse and he did not receive another World Series assignment.
The Complaint alleges that while Torre's animus against Hernandez may be personal, Hernandez is being discriminated against in that of the 36 umpires Torre has assigned to the World Series, only 2 have been non-white, and both of those were the same umpire, Mexican Alfonso Marquez. The Complaint further alleges that there is systematic discrimination dating back to 2000 that prevents minorities from getting promoted to Crew Chief
This Complaint is confusing, disjointed, and unfocused. The first half of the Complaint makes the claim appear to be that Torre was discriminating against Hernandez, but in paragraph 66, it is admitted that Torre's animus is personal and not discriminatory. The second half of the Complaint alleges that the real discrimination is that white umpires are treated better than non-white umpires in that they get better assignments and better jobs, but the time frame is repeatedly changed. Despite focusing more than half the Complaint on Torre, none of the Counts allege anything specific regarding Torre. Ultimately, it appears that this is a disparate impact claim that the MLB has routinely favored whites over non-whites. This claim gets lost in the morass of Hernandez and Torre's personal animus.
The disparate impact claim is broken down into two parts. The first is that non-whites are not being assigned to the World Series under Torre and the second is that non-whites are not being given crew chief positions. Not alleged is that the MLB is not hiring minority umpires. There is no attempt to compare percentage of minority umpires against percentage of total umpires getting these positions. These issues will have to be addressed during discovery.
More problematic for Hernandez, however, will be proving that this disparate impact affected him personally. Even a cursory google search returns many results about Hernandez:
- In a 2010 poll of MLB players, he was named the third worst umpire in baseball.
- There have been numerous complaints about missed calls, including having the worst strike call in the MLB this season.
- In his last major assignment, the 2016 National League Championship Series assignment, he blew a call that caused the player to publicly question him.
- He has been called "among the most vilified umpires in the major leagues" and "just bad."
- Perhaps most damning, given the content of the Complaint, is that going back as far as 1991, when Hernandez was still an umpire in the minor leagues, he had a reputation as "an umpire who yearns for the spotlight". This did not surprise anybody when the article resurfaced in 2013.
To prove a claim of disparate impact discrimination, a plaintiff must be able to show that the policy or procedure in place was in fact not neutral and in fact did cause him to be denied beneficial job actions such as promotions or bonus opportunities. While Hernandez alleged that he was a good performer and only received poor marks because of Torre's personal animus against him, Hernandez will have a significant uphill battle to prove that he was deserving of what he claims and that it was discrimination and not his own performance that has led to his lack of opportunities.
We will continue to monitor this case and update as it moves along.