WotC Being Sued By Magic: the Gathering Judges

Wizards of the Coast, which, as you likely know, produces the enormous collectible card game Magic: The Gathering (as well as RPGs like D&D) is on the end of a class action lawsuit filed by a small group of M:tG judges (Adam Shaw, Peter Golightly, Justin Turner, and Joshua Stansfield). The suit alleges that WotC failed to pay minimum wage, provide meal or rest breaks, reimburse business expenses, maintain accurate payroll records, and more. M:tG judges are volunteers, but the filing appears to allege that the degree of supervision and control exercised by WotC was enough to create an employer-employee relationship instead. The M:tG judges are demanding a jury trial.


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Russ Morrissey

Comments

AriochQ

Explorer
I would guess this is relating to convention/tournament judges. I have a friend I used to push mini's with and was surprised to read on a FB post that WoTC was flying him across the country to judge at a big tournament. I had always assumed it was more 'volunteer' and less 'professional'. I am not surprised by this, MtG is clearly raking in the money and top level judging can't be easy. They pay boxing refs, NFL officials, etc., so why not MtG judges?
 

Chimpy

Villager
I'm sure there is no need to take this to court. Seems like something blown out of all proportion. Unfortunately we seem to live in a culture where lawsuits are a seen as normal.
 
I'll bet that this is the final step in a long process of attempting to come to an agreement without any success. I'm honestly shocked that they weren't actual employees....even a temp/seasonal designation of some kind.
 

D&Dsince76

Villager
I noticed that WOtC has job listings for the following:

Director: Organized Play, Premier Play, & eSports
and
Manager: Premier Play Business Operations

Both are Magic-oriented... related?

Bill W.
 

ShadowCat5

Villager
If they volunteered I don't see what grounds they can stand on. Unless more information comes to light, I am siding with WotC on this one.
 

Morrus

Well, that was fun
Staff member
If they volunteered I don't see what grounds they can stand on. Unless more information comes to light, I am siding with WotC on this one.
As far as I can make out (and I'm no lawyer) the argument is that under certain conditions, a voluntary arrangement meets the qualifications for an employer-employee relationship, regardless of whether it was labelled voluntary; and the plaintiffs, and their lawyers, feel that the way WotC conducted the program met those conditions as defined in certain statutes and existing labour laws.

Whether a jury will agree that those conditions were met is another matter. I guess we'll find out! But it's clearly not just a trivial "oh it says 'voluntary' - case closed!" situation. The case hinges on a lot more than the usage of that one word.
 

Celebrim

Legend
M:tG judges are volunteers, but the filing appears to allege that the degree of supervision and control exercised by WotC was enough to create an employer-employee relationship instead.
The fact that this was filed in California is significant. This is fallout from the Uber settlement. Similar actions in different states have tended to have the judge throw the lawsuit out, but since California set a precedent that you could claim "common law" employment from someone you had a business relationship with, you are likely to see A LOT of this sort of thing.

California judges are weird. The 9th circuit in particular has the highest rates of being overturned on appeal of any court in the country. Personally, I find the lawsuit about as baseless as someone claiming that because a website accepted forum posts, a de facto employee/employer relationship existed.

Hmmm.... ;)
 

Dannyalcatraz

Moderator
Staff member
As far as I can make out (and I'm no lawyer) the argument is that under certain conditions, a voluntary arrangement meets the qualifications for an employer-employee relationship, regardless of whether it was labelled voluntary; and the plaintiffs, and their lawyers, feel that the way WotC conducted the program met those conditions as defined in certain statutes and existing labour laws.
I can't say I've seen a case in which there was a similar allegation that "volunteers" somehow morphed into "employees". It will be interesting to see how this shakes out.
 

Obryn

Villager
I'm sure there is no need to take this to court. Seems like something blown out of all proportion. Unfortunately we seem to live in a culture where lawsuits are a seen as normal.
What other venue would be appropriate for such a complaint?
 

Monkey King

Villager
Well, I'm can't say whether the case has merit, but there's definitely some aspects of the MtG judging program that sound exactly like an employee role. Judges have to wear certain uniforms, work set hours, complete certifications, file reports, etc. They are monitored and supervised by WotC staff. They are apparently paid in product and provided airfare and accomodations.

And as I understand it, federal law says that the term "volunteer" only applies to people working for a non-profit organization such as community groups, boy/girl scouts, church groups, convention organizers for small conventions, etc. Apparently, for-profit groups can't have volunteers; they have just employees and independent contractors.

But labor law is weird and complex, and I am definitely not a lawyer. I just think that maybe judges should be paid, just like umpires, referees, and others.
 

Twiggly the Gnome

Adventurer
I can't say I've seen a case in which there was a similar allegation that "volunteers" somehow morphed into "employees". It will be interesting to see how this shakes out.
I seem to remember a case a few years back where some people brought in as unpaid interns were awarded compensation, however, I don't remember the particulars of that case.
 

Obryn

Villager
Yeah, at first I was thinking this was utterly ridiculous, but I can at least see the argument. WotC is using volunteers to help them market their products at venues where they hope to make a profit; that's a lot murkier than volunteering for, say, a soup kitchen.
 

mlund

Villager
Someone in the game industry finally got being enough for Labor Laws to stop turning a blind eye to them. Hasbro is not a non-profit or a family / small business, so they don't get the same kind of exemptions for unpaid volunteer labor that those operations do. Judges at the independent FLGS level will never produce a viable case against WotC, but they are going to run into constant problems with the staffing they do at Pro Tours and some conventions where they operate directly until they come into compliance with labor laws. They are, on the face of it, disregarding the basic premise of labor laws - in California if not at the Federal level.

The "bunch of unpaid fans help us promote our products" thing really only plays out with small businesses and strictly promotional things. The jobs that staff judges do running Pro Tours are out of scope for that kind of treatment. WotC / Hasbro should have to follow basic labor standards in those situations like most other for-profit businesses do. Either that or everybody should have the same prerogative for non-compliance.
 

Jer

Adventurer
I seem to remember a case a few years back where some people brought in as unpaid interns were awarded compensation, however, I don't remember the particulars of that case.
Not sure if it's the case you're thinking about, but in the US if you are an unpaid intern the company you're interning with can't have you do any substantial work for the company. You're allowed to get coffee and run papers around the office, but the assumption is that unpaid interns are mostly there to observe rather than to do actual work. If they're doing actual work it's supposed to be a paid internship, and companies can get in big trouble by skirting employment law and calling someone who is actually a part-time employee an "unpaid intern". (And this, along with historic demand reasons, is why IT internships in the US are almost all paid).
 

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