Umpire Ángel Hernández Loses Racial Discrimination Lawsuit Against MLB

Umpire Ángel Hernández’s racial discrimination lawsuit against Major League Baseball (MLB) suffered another setback, as a federal appeals court refused to reinstate his case on Tuesday. The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a previous district court decision that granted MLB a summary judgment. Hernández, who was born in Cuba and became a big league umpire in 1993, filed the lawsuit in 2017, claiming discrimination based on the fact that he had not been assigned to the World Series since 2005 and had been passed over for promotion to crew chief.

The 2nd Circuit emphasized that Hernández had failed to establish a statistically significant disparity between the promotion rates of white and minority umpires. The court noted that MLB had provided persuasive expert evidence demonstrating that the difference in crew chief promotion rates between white and minority umpires during the relevant years was not statistically significant. The panel criticized Hernández for not offering any explanation as to why MLB’s statistical evidence should be deemed unreliable.

The decision was made by U.S. Circuit Judges Susan L. Carney and Steven J. Menash, who heard oral arguments on June 8. However, it is important to note that the third member of the panel, Circuit Judge Rosemary S. Pooler, sadly passed away before the decision was reached. Hernández had claimed that then-MLB executive Joe Torre, who played a key role in umpire-related decisions, held animosity towards him dating back to Torre’s tenure as the manager of the New York Yankees.

The panel emphasized that Hernández had failed to demonstrate that the criteria used by Torre in making crew chief promotion decisions caused the existing disparity between white and minority crew chiefs. The court stated that Hernández had made no showing that Torre harbored a bias against racial minorities. This lack of evidence further weakened Hernández’s case against MLB and added to the court’s decision to uphold the summary judgment.

Nicholas R. Gregg, Hernández’s lawyer, did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment on the decision. However, Hernández still has the option to request a rehearing of the case by the full New York-based 2nd Circuit or to seek a review by the U.S. Supreme Court. Given the strong affirming language used in the decision, it may be an uphill battle for Hernández to pursue further legal action.

The court’s decision comes at a time when MLB has made strides in increasing diversity among its umpiring crew chiefs. Kerwin Danley became the first Black crew chief in 2020, followed by Alfonso Marquez, the first Hispanic crew chief born outside the United States, in the same year. It is worth noting that Richie Garcia, a Hispanic umpire born in Florida, broke barriers in 1985 by becoming MLB’s first Hispanic crew chief.

It should be noted that Hernández’s career has not been without controversy. In Game 3 of the 2018 AL Division Series between the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox, Hernández had three calls at first base overturned in video reviews. These incidents have further fueled the debate surrounding his performance as an umpire.

The court’s decision to uphold the summary judgment in favor of MLB deals a significant blow to Ángel Hernández’s racial discrimination lawsuit. The lack of statistically significant evidence and failure to prove bias on the part of Joe Torre were key factors contributing to the court’s ruling. As Hernández considers his next steps, it remains to be seen how this case will impact diversity and inclusion efforts within MLB and the umpiring community as a whole.

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