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Made in us
Tzeentch Aspiring Sorcerer Riding a Disc





Orem, Utah

There has been an odd turn of events- a few Magic the Gathering judges have filed two lawsuits against Wizards of the Coast. The lawsuit claims that Judges are employees of Wizards of the Coast, and are therefore entitled to employee rights (like wages, lunch breaks and overtime). Both suits have asked for class action status.

Here is the website run by the lawyers representing Magic the Gathering Judges.

Here is Wizard's Response to the lawsuit.

Here is an analysis (presumably by someone with credentials, but I didn't double check).


This could have some big implications for a lot of organized play. What does everyone think?

This message was edited 3 times. Last update was at 2017/03/10 16:34:24


 
   
Made in us
Hardened Veteran Guardsman






USA

Didn't this already happen in the video game industry?

If I remember correctly. They would advertise for helpers for their games (usually mmo type games). These helpers would answer questions and help out in other ways as volunteers. I think they set times they would need to cover if they wanted to remain a helper. Note Helper is my term as I can't remember what they were called in game.

I believe the gaming industry lost that lawsuit and now has to pay people to do that type of work.

This message was edited 2 times. Last update was at 2017/03/10 18:40:45


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Fixture of Dakka




UK

I wonder if all those judges not involved in the suit are going to be happy with their new employee status (as it seems pretty clear they'll eventually end up there)

when the IRS starts asking for their cut of the value of all those exclusive cards they get.. you can argue they are gift when your a volunteer (google tells me you can avoid tax on up to $14000), but not on wages which is what they'll become

(and no Wizards etc assigning a nominal tiny value to them won't cut it they're wise to the 'honest its not worth anything scam)

 
   
Made in gb
Cunning Chieftain






I'm thinking it might be inspired by recent developments against The like of Uber and Deliveroo - Uber certainly lost, with their drivers counting as employed rather than self-employed.

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Tzeentch Aspiring Sorcerer Riding a Disc





Orem, Utah

I think the judges just don't like being micromanaged by Wizards (WotC keeps tight reigns on their judges).

They wanted Wizards to form a non-profit Judges Alliance that could run as a volunteer organization (for profit corporations aren't allowed to hire volunteers like non-profits can).

I kind of think that the case started with Judges who wanted to force WotC to make a non-profit, but then realized that they could get back wages for everything they've been doing.


* -The cards Judges got can easily be called of nominal value in a legal sense- the only reason that they're more valuable on the secondary market is due to the rarity (which is the point, right?).

But honestly, if they had a retail price, it would be pretty cheap.

And I don't know if the cards ever actually make up for the time (and overtime) that Magic Judges put in. All together, I think the back wages would cover it pretty soundly.


* - From what I saw of Uber- they settled the case. New cases can come forward, but Uber payed out a handsome sum, but Uber drivers continue to be considered "independent contractors." But the door was left open for other cases to be brought forward against Uber.

 
   
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Delicious Fruit Gardener







The work that judges do is 100% essential to the game (unlike the type of volunteer who really only recruit new players), so they should be paid.

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I find this very interesting.

[grabs chair & pop-corn]
   
Made in gb
Fixture of Dakka




UK

 odinsgrandson wrote:

-The cards Judges got can easily be called of nominal value in a legal sense- the only reason that they're more valuable on the secondary market is due to the rarity (which is the point, right?).

But honestly, if they had a retail price, it would be pretty cheap.



The problem with that is I'm pretty sure they can't, especially when the IRS becomes officially 'aware' of a situation as is going to happen here with the court case,

I think this paraphrase (actually relating to their own art being given/donated by an artist even when the materials used are of negligible value not magic cards says it best)

"Now for the sticky part:

How do you determine the fair market value of the art you're gifting or donating?

According to Internal Revenue Code, fair market value is defined as "the price that property would sell for on the open market. It is the price that would be agreed on between a willing buyer and a willing seller, with neither being required to act, and both having reasonable knowledge of the relevant facts." With art, dollar amounts are not written in stone. Nevertheless, how you interpret or determine prices may well be scrutinized by the IRS which means that you have to be careful in stating dollar values."

so once cards that have pretty decent secondary market value become part of a 'salary' people who volunteer as judges and are working so have other taxable income may well have to think carefully about whether to declare them too

This message was edited 1 time. Last update was at 2017/03/10 22:07:35


 
   
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I'm wondering what kind of impact this will have on other volunteer programs. PP just cut their entire Pressganger program because of this lawsuit (allegedly).
What might happen to others like them in smaller companies?

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Myrtle Creek, OR

I'm wondering what kind of impact this will have on FLGSs if anything major happens. MTG pretty much floats many, if not most, game stores. Those folks already have rockitty margins and day-to-day situations as it already stands. Hoping this doesn't cause much splash damage.
   
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Portland, OR

I would think that technically (I realize this is complicated because State laws have an effect as well) volunteers would be considered "Independent Contractors". As long as they don't receive more than $600 in paid wages, then they don't need to file a 1099. As far as I can remember only the paid wages matter and not 'additional compensation' that would be agreed upon.

This however is being watched by quite a few gaming companies. I don't see it effecting volunteers and FLGS events. However it can have an impact on volunteers for working conventions, which is pretty much what I do. I'd rather not be considered an employee... and I'd rather not be paid a flat wage, then have to fend for myself to find hotel and transportation. I rather enjoy paid flight and hotel, stipends and $$$ compensation in product that I can use to trade with other vendors and volunteers.

   
Made in us
Dangerous Outrider






In the mid 90's comic shops seemed to be everywhere.. and then the marked imploded on its self...
Now there is game/comic stores (even just magic shops) everywhere including in small towns with populations
of a few thousand people.. My gut feeling is the same thing will happen.. Magic will not die but it will
get knocked down a little and many stores will close up... same as the comic trend a few decades back.

As for being a paid employee.. if they are volunteers that means to work for free, but there should be some type of contract signed..
If there was one.. the people suing really don't have much to stand on... if there wasn't one.. Hasbro may have their lunch eaten..

 
   
Made in ca
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so TLDR this lawsuit could deal a mortal wound to the hobby... ncie job judges

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Norn Queen






BrianDavion wrote:
so TLDR this lawsuit could deal a mortal wound to the hobby... ncie job judges


Not the hobby as a whole, but certainly the organised event side of it.
   
Made in us
Longtime Dakkanaut






This issue comes up from time to time.

As far as Magic- Glad I don't play, and if the paperwork is good, the phrase "Too big for their own good" comes to mind.

I mean in the land of frivolous lawsuits, THIS is one of the best.

Volunteer judges playing a card game are suing to be paid for a hobby... yeah, only in America.


Automatically Appended Next Post:
 Genoside07 wrote:
In the mid 90's comic shops seemed to be everywhere.. and then the marked imploded on its self...
Now there is game/comic stores (even just magic shops) everywhere including in small towns with populations
of a few thousand people.. My gut feeling is the same thing will happen.. Magic will not die but it will
get knocked down a little and many stores will close up... same as the comic trend a few decades back.

As for being a paid employee.. if they are volunteers that means to work for free, but there should be some type of contract signed..
If there was one.. the people suing really don't have much to stand on... if there wasn't one.. Hasbro may have their lunch eaten..


Great comparison. I like the way you think on this one, because I was just thinking the same way when I read the complaint by the plaintiff.

This message was edited 1 time. Last update was at 2017/03/12 15:23:43




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Made in ca
Regular Dakkanaut






 Grot 6 wrote:


Volunteer judges playing a card game are suing to be paid for a hobby... yeah, only in America.


Volunteers work for non-profit organizations. Your local games tournament might be non-profit, but Wizards of the Coast is NOT. WotC determines who becomes a judge (and how they become a judge) and already has a compensation system in place (exclusive cards) and has the ability to discipline judges who step out of line, up to and including removing their certification ("firing them"). This is pretty much an employer/employee relationship. It's a PART TIME one, so the requirement for benefits is minimal, but still employment.

At the bare minimum WotC should have guidelines for breaks and meals and require sanctioned events to follow them. It would be fairly easy for WotC to require sanctioned events to pay judges minimum wage - at worst, the registration fee for a tournament would go up a bit. This won't ruin the hobby, just make sanctioned events more expensive to attend.

   
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Regular Dakkanaut




Scotland

The dates on the OP links say that this started around April last year. Has anything happened yet? How long does it take to reach a outcome?
   
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Lost Wages? I think that's where I lost my shirt.

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UK

 durecellrabbit wrote:
The dates on the OP links say that this started around April last year. Has anything happened yet? How long does it take to reach a outcome?


from this https://www.pacermonitor.com/public/case/11191519/Shaw_et_al_v_Wizards_of_the_Coast,_LLC# it looks like its live but nothing much as happened since april 2016

you can also still sign up tp be a part of it http://www.wizardslawsuit.com/

 
   
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Decrepit Dakkanaut






Baltimore, MD

 durecellrabbit wrote:
The dates on the OP links say that this started around April last year. Has anything happened yet? How long does it take to reach a outcome?


It can take a year or more just to get a court to grant class status, and then every aspect of the suit can take longer due to the class action nature of a suit. Three to five years from filing to final outcome is pretty common.


Automatically Appended Next Post:
 Grot 6 wrote:
I mean in the land of frivolous lawsuits, THIS is one of the best.

Volunteer judges playing a card game are suing to be paid for a hobby... yeah, only in America.


this isn't frivolous, not by a long shot, at least not according to how the legal community defines "frivolous."

We know they aren't volunteers, for two reasons. First, they aren't working with a non-profit organization, but for at least two businesses: WOTC and the sponsor of the event they're judging. Secondly, they expect and receive compensation. They receive product, exclusive cards, etc.

So, they provide a service to a business, in the location and times given by that business, under the rules and policies of another business, and receive compensation. The real question is: in what way are they not employees?

This message was edited 1 time. Last update was at 2017/03/12 20:29:41


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The cards as fair payment kind of melds into a (nonsensical in its own context) argument raised by the 'not a massive scam at all' WeRe Bank - namely that anything can be used in place of recognised currency - provided the value of said good is agreed by both parties.

Where WeRe and the Freemen on the Land claptrap falls down of course is that payment tendered is not payment accepted - here that wouldn't appear to be the case.

(For those wondering about WeRe, this is a pretty interesting read

This message was edited 1 time. Last update was at 2017/03/12 21:02:38


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Maybe it's just because I don't follow Magic, but, err, if the judges were unhappy with the conditions of being judges why in the hell did they become judges?

I mean I can understand wanting to hold up the ideals of minimum wage, but surely these positions only exist because WotC don't have to pay them? It's not like people are being fired and replaced with other workers below minimum wage is it?
   
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Scotland

OrlandotheTechnicoloured wrote:from this https://www.pacermonitor.com/public/case/11191519/Shaw_et_al_v_Wizards_of_the_Coast,_LLC# it looks like its live but nothing much as happened since april 2016

you can also still sign up tp be a part of it http://www.wizardslawsuit.com/


Polonius wrote:It can take a year or more just to get a court to grant class status, and then every aspect of the suit can take longer due to the class action nature of a suit. Three to five years from filing to final outcome is pretty common.


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Baltimore, MD

AllSeeingSkink wrote:
Maybe it's just because I don't follow Magic, but, err, if the judges were unhappy with the conditions of being judges why in the hell did they become judges?

I mean I can understand wanting to hold up the ideals of minimum wage, but surely these positions only exist because WotC don't have to pay them? It's not like people are being fired and replaced with other workers below minimum wage is it?


I don't know much about the magic judge's program, but in my experience, people that sue former employers do so because they feel wronged. If I had to guess, based on the issue of WOTC having the right to sanction and/or remove judges, is that the plaintiff's were probably disciplined or let go, and are more likely to look at their time as a judge less favorably.

My complete speculation is that there was probably some unwritten promises made as well, that weren't carried out.

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 Polonius wrote:
So, they provide a service to a business, in the location and times given by that business, under the rules and policies of another business, and receive compensation. The real question is: in what way are they not employees?


Not going to argue that the lawsuit is frivolous, but I don't see how they're employees (at least for most tournaments). How it works with MTG judges is that WOTC certifies a judge has passed a test, but outside of major WOTC-run tournaments they don't assign particular judges to an event. The local store that wants to have a sanctioned event is responsible for finding a judge and convincing them to do the job. Nor is WOTC setting the time of the event, how the store compensates the people running the event (many/most of whom are employees of the store), etc. It's a situation like with other professional certifications: Microsoft might send you a certificate saying "this person knows Windows", but using that certificate to get paid to work at a local company's IT department doesn't make you a Microsoft employee. An individual judge might have a case against a local store they've judged for, but not WOTC.

Now, for the major WOTC-run events like the pro tour there might be a better case that WOTC is directly hiring judges to work as employees. I don't know the details on how much individual judges get "employee"-type arrangements for a permanent job and how much it's an independent contractor sort of job where any certified judge can show up at a single event in exchange for a fixed payment, but it's certainly a much less interesting case for the hobby as a whole. Given the budget of these events, with tens of thousands of dollars in cash prizes, renting large convention spaces, etc, it's hard to see how having to pay some judges minimum wage and a lunch break is going to be more than a rounding error in WOTC's business model.

This message was edited 2 times. Last update was at 2017/03/13 04:43:35


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SoCal

That's the thing. When you have someone in a corporate office doing nothing but looking at numbers, that rounding error is still a sum of money they don't need to spend.

That's the thing about business, doesn't matter what's both reasonable and right, but still within budget, it's just about the bottom line.

TBH I haven't looked much into this, but honestly it depends on what the company was asking of judges and how much they gained for that extremely cheap labor.

   
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Been Around the Block




Having read the legal analysis it appears there's a fairly specific set of criteria that may need to be met to be deemed an employee, involving things like the certification process, having a company-backed official competitive ruleset, etc.

As such I wonder whether this will have any implications for other organised play that doesn't meet all those criteria. FFG organised play, for example, certainly has company-defined standards of play but no official recognition of the quality of judges through a registration or certification program.

As with any legal matter the devil is in the details, but from my incomplete understanding of the law here it looks like this may be a situation that's rather specific to how WotC runs their tournaments and judges program. As such it may not have such a seismic effect on other companies. Even if other companies are affected it may be that some relatively minor adjustments to their policies will keep them within the law.
   
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Eye of Terror

 Peregrine wrote:
Not going to argue that the lawsuit is frivolous, but I don't see how they're employees (at least for most tournaments). How it works with MTG judges is that WOTC certifies a judge has passed a test, but outside of major WOTC-run tournaments they don't assign particular judges to an event. The local store that wants to have a sanctioned event is responsible for finding a judge and convincing them to do the job. Nor is WOTC setting the time of the event, how the store compensates the people running the event (many/most of whom are employees of the store), etc. It's a situation like with other professional certifications: Microsoft might send you a certificate saying "this person knows Windows", but using that certificate to get paid to work at a local company's IT department doesn't make you a Microsoft employee. An individual judge might have a case against a local store they've judged for, but not WOTC.


I have not read the details of the claims in the lawsuit, but what you are describing sounds awfully like a multi-level marketing scheme. The function the judge serves may not be to officiate the game, but to provide a sense of legitimacy to the event. In this case - having control over schedule and fees charged may not be a determinant in whether or not the person is rightfully classified as an independent contractor / volunteer.

 Peregrine wrote:

Now, for the major WOTC-run events like the pro tour there might be a better case that WOTC is directly hiring judges to work as employees. I don't know the details on how much individual judges get "employee"-type arrangements for a permanent job and how much it's an independent contractor sort of job where any certified judge can show up at a single event in exchange for a fixed payment, but it's certainly a much less interesting case for the hobby as a whole. Given the budget of these events, with tens of thousands of dollars in cash prizes, renting large convention spaces, etc, it's hard to see how having to pay some judges minimum wage and a lunch break is going to be more than a rounding error in WOTC's business model.


Employee doesn't always mean full time, or even part time. I serve on the board of a couple organizations. My employment agreement with them does not state anything about the amount of time I must spend involved in organizational activities. It specifies I must not compete or release confidential information, and also details compensation.

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 John Prins wrote:
 Grot 6 wrote:


Volunteer judges playing a card game are suing to be paid for a hobby... yeah, only in America.


Volunteers work for non-profit organizations. Your local games tournament might be non-profit, but Wizards of the Coast is NOT. WotC determines who becomes a judge (and how they become a judge) and already has a compensation system in place (exclusive cards) and has the ability to discipline judges who step out of line, up to and including removing their certification ("firing them"). This is pretty much an employer/employee relationship. It's a PART TIME one, so the requirement for benefits is minimal, but still employment.

At the bare minimum WotC should have guidelines for breaks and meals and require sanctioned events to follow them. It would be fairly easy for WotC to require sanctioned events to pay judges minimum wage - at worst, the registration fee for a tournament would go up a bit. This won't ruin the hobby, just make sanctioned events more expensive to attend.


Its a hobby. They are not employees, they are volunteers. You have proved my point though.

Judges are not on the payroll, and this is a game, that they volunteer to rep. Same as most rep programs.



At Games Workshop, we believe that how you behave does matter. We believe this so strongly that we have written it down in the Games Workshop Book. There is a section in the book where we talk about the values we expect all staff to demonstrate in their working lives. These values are Lawyers, Guns and Money. 
   
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Longtime Dakkanaut






But they are on the payroll though, in that they apparently receive compensation in the form of goods.

At a quick glance, the whole situation might sound ludicrous. "Obviously signing up to ref a few games of magic is not the same as a 9-5 job in the factories".

But look a bit closer at the legalities, and it's not so clear cut.

   
 
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