Former Minnesota Twins scout Howard Norsetter—whose recommendations led the Twins to acquire David Ortiz, Justin Morneau, Grant Balfour and other future MLB All-Stars—has suffered another defeat in his age discrimination lawsuit. Earlier this week the Court of Appeals of Minnesota sided with the Twins, who after hiring a 33-year-old as chief baseball officer and emphasizing analytics, declined to retain Norsetter as international scouting coordinator. Norsetter was 59 years old when let go in 2017.
An Australian resident, Norsetter worked for the Twins for 27 years. He was tasked with finding talent in Australia, Asia, Canada and Europe, including during the Olympics and other international tournaments.
Job duties, Norsetter’s complaint noted, further involved market study analyses and identifying “dollar signs on the muscle.” Norsetter, Judge James Florey wrote, was good at his job. He consistently “received favorable evaluations, reviews, and feedback regarding his job performance.”
Norsetter’s fortunes changed in 2016, when the Twins finished with the worst record in baseball (59-103) and revamped their front office. The team hired Derek Falvey, 33, as chief baseball officer and Thad Levine, 44, as general manager. The Minneapolis Star-Tribune described these transformations as part of an organizational “youth movement” occurring both on and off the field. Falvey, the paper wrote, represented “the new wave of baseball executives, with a heavy analytical bent.”
The club’s new leaders felt the team had overspent in Australia, a mere “niche” market for baseball talent. Falvey and Levine also considered new MLB rules that would cap spending on international players. They reasoned that allocating the Twins scouting budget towards talent-laden Latin American markets would prove more efficient.
After being informed of the pending change and that his position was being eliminated, Norsetter told the Twins that he was willing to relocate and take a pay cut. The Twins declined his overture and, and without considering Norsetter for other jobs, “hired eight scouts in North America who were in their 20s, 30s, and 40s; six were more than 20 years younger and three were more than 30 years younger than Norsetter.” Norsetter, his complaint claims, was one of several baseball staff in their 50s and 60s whose Twins contracts were not renewed or who were demoted. In “most or all” cases, the complaint says, they were replaced by younger people.
Norsetter sued the Twins in 2018, arguing the team had violated the Minnesota Human Rights Act (MHRA). This law prohibits workplace discrimination, including on the basis of age. Norsetter regarded the club’s explanation, which was grounded in a scouting philosophy shift, as pretextual.
The following year, a district court granted the Twins’ motion for summary judgment. The court reasoned the club had offered a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason—the worst team in baseball, with new leaders at the helm, decided to change its scouting philosophy and associated spending.
In 2020 the Court of Appeals reversed and remanded the case for additional proceedings. It found that Norsetter had a right to access additional emails and the resumes of the eight scouts hired over him. A second bite at the apple didn’t change the result. The Twins were granted summary judgment, with the district court concluding it was not the place of court to evaluate a team’s new approach to scouting.
Norsetter appealed, but there would be no reversal. Judge Florey concurred the Twins had offered a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for not renewing Norsetter’s contract. He also emphasized that “employers do not have a legal duty to transfer an employee whose position was eliminated.” The Twins therefore didn’t have to inform Norsetter of open scouting positions or consider him.
Judge Florey also refused to assign legal significance to statistical evidence, offered by Norsetter, that the Twins possibly favored younger scouts. The reason: The Twins had substantively explained those decisions in the context of baseball moves. Judge Florey further dismissed Norsetter’s own “beliefs” regarding his skillset relative to younger scouts as “irrelevant to determining pretext.”
Norsetter can petition the Minnesota Supreme Court to review his case.