NEW YORK — Umpire Ángel Hernandez lost his lawsuit against Major League Baseball alleging racial discrimination.
The Cuba-born Hernandez sued in 2017 in U.S. District Court in Cincinnati, a case later moved to New York. Hired as a big-league umpire in 1993, he alleged he was discriminated against because he had not been assigned to the World Series since 2005 and had been passed over for crew chief. Hernandez was made an interim crew chief last July at the start of the pandemic-delayed shortened season after a dozen umps decided to sit out.
“The court concludes that no reasonable juror could find that MLB’s stated explanation is a pretext for discriminatory motive,” U.S. District Judge J. Paul Oetken wrote Wednesday in granting MLB’s motion for a summary judgment.
Oetken wrote that MLB picking Mexico-born Alfonso Marquez to work the World Series in 2011 and 2015 was “a promotion that seemingly would not have been made were MLB discriminating on the basis of race or national identity.”
Hernandez claimed Chief Baseball Officer Joe Torre had animus toward him dating to 2001 and that Torre bypassed Hernandez for crew chief and World Series assignments. Hernandez cited generally positive Field Evaluation Forms he had received.
“MLB has established beyond genuine dispute seniority and FEF ratings were considered as two of many factors in umpire promotions and were not decisive on their own,” Oetken wrote. “In multiple seasons, Torre rejected white crew chief candidates who had more seniority than the white umpires he promoted.”
“Hernandez’s handful of cherry-picked examples does not reliably establish any systematic effort on MLB’s part to artificially deflate Hernandez’s evaluations, much less an effort to do so in order to cover up discrimination,” the judge added. “The evidence shows beyond genuine dispute that an umpire’s leadership and situation management carried the day in MLB’s promotion decisions.”
Oetken wrote that Torre made legitimate denials for Hernandez.
“The explicit reason MLB offers — that according to Torre, Hernandez ‘has not demonstrated the leadership ability and situation-management skills in critical high-pressure roles on a consistent basis’ — is presented in clear and specific terms,” the judge said.