Major League Baseball umpire loses appeal of discrimination lawsuit

By Jonathan Stempel

NEW YORK (Reuters) -A federal appeals court on Tuesday refused to revive longtime umpire Angel Hernandez’s lawsuit accusing Major League Baseball of racial discrimination.

In a 3-0 decision, the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan rejected the Cuban-born umpire’s arguments that the league’s promotion practices, including its failure to promote him to crew chief, reflected unfair treatment of minorities.

Hernandez, an MLB umpire since 1993, claimed he had been discriminated against because he was passed over for crew chief five times between 2011 and 2018, and last umpired a World Series in 2005.

He also said Joe Torre, who was MLB’s chief baseball officer when Hernandez sued in 2017, had a “history of animosity” toward him dating from when the Hall of Famer managed the New York Yankees between 1996 and 2007.

In Tuesday’s decision, the appeals court said that despite a “bottom-line imbalance” between white and minority crew chiefs, Hernandez failed to show a statistically significant disparity in promotion rates.

It also rejected Hernandez’s claim that U.S. District Judge Paul Oetken, whose March 2021 dismissal of the lawsuit was upheld, erred in accepting MLB’s reasons for not promoting the umpire despite alleged evidence that the explanation was pretextual.

Among the league’s reasons were a missed home run call in 2013 that Hernandez failed to acknowledge, and what Torre called Hernandez’s “overly confrontational style.”

Oetken said Hernandez did not show he was so much better qualified that discrimination might be inferred when MLB awarded plum assignments to less senior umpires.

Lawyers for Hernandez did not immediately respond to requests for comment. MLB spokesman Michael Teevan declined to comment.

Hernandez has been regarded as among the more controversial MLB umpires, at times drawing scrutiny for apparent missed calls.

In 2020, MLB named Kerwin Danley its first black crew chief and Alfonso Marquez its first Hispanic crew chief born outside the United States. The first Hispanic crew chief was Richie Garcia, who was elevated to that role in 1985.

The case is Hernandez v. Office of the Commissioner of Baseball et al, 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, No. 22-343.

(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Jonathan Oatis)