- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 23, 2000

The Baltimore Orioles' policy of not signing Cuban defectors may be illegal, immigration and legal experts said yesterday.
The policy, first reported by The Washington Times last week, may violate the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Title VII of that act outlaws the denial of employment because of national origin.
The Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 also makes it illegal to deny employment to aliens, including defectors, authorized to work in the United States on the basis of nationality or citizenship status.
"It certainly looks like a claim could be made under Title VII," said Tom Coleman, a labor and employment lawyer with Williams, Mullen, Clark and Dobbin, a District of Columbia-based law firm. "To develop any kind of policy that makes nationality a defining factor in hiring practice would be in violation."
Roger Clegg, a deputy in the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice under Presidents Reagan and Bush, agreed.
"If Peter Angelos is refusing to hire Cuban players because they're Cuban or because they're defectors, he's breaking the law," said Clegg of the Orioles owner. Clegg is vice president and general counsel for the District-based Center for Equal Opportunity.
The Orioles' policy is a first for a major league baseball team. It is the outgrowth of a historic two-game series the Orioles played last year against the Cuban national team in Havana and Baltimore. After the series, Angelos put the policy in place, according to Syd Thrift, the team's vice president for baseball operations.
Angelos late last week denied the Orioles have a mandate against signing defectors, contradicting Thrift and Bill Stetka, the team's public relations director. A high-ranking official on the club's business side also confirmed the policy. Angelos did not return calls yesterday.
"After the good will created between the two countries by the visit, we Mr. Angelos in particular feel it best to not do anything that could be interpreted [by Cuba] as being disrespectful or … encouraging players" to defect, Thrift told The Times last week.
"That about says it," Stetka said of Thrift's statement.
Agents representing Cuban players long have suspected the Orioles had such a policy. The Orioles' minor league system includes players from nine countries other than the United States, including the Dominican Republic, Venezuela and Mexico, but not Cuba.
Joe Kehoskie, an agent based in Syracuse, N.Y., represents four Cuban defectors, including two signed by the Texas Rangers. Kehoskie said the Orioles, almost alone among major league teams, have never shown interest in his clients.
"We had four different showcases for the Cuban players in Costa Rica and the Dominican Republic [between December 1998 and January 2000]," said Kehoskie, who last week wrote baseball commissioner Bud Selig criticizing the Orioles. "Twenty-seven different major league teams showed up. The only teams that didn't were Milwaukee, Montreal and the Orioles.
"I understand the first two because they're small-market teams and the smaller clubs usually can't afford the bidding on these players. But the Orioles have one of the highest payrolls in baseball and claim they want to restock their minor league system. These players would have been a good fit."
The Orioles' $83 million payroll is the third-highest in baseball.
The mere signing of other Caribbean players and the lack of Cuban signings could put the Orioles in violation of the law, Clegg said.
"If you scout a Dominican player on Monday and a Venezuelan player on Tuesday, then on Wednesday and Thursday you don't attend a showcase for Cuban players … then it looks like there's evidence something's going on here that can only be explained by a reluctance to hire people from a certain country," said Clegg.
"If it happens enough then it starts to look suspicious and the proof of discrimination becomes overwhelming. Another thing you would consider is what are other teams doing. If they're signing these players and another team isn't, it factors into the equation."
Other high-payroll teams, including the New York Yankees, New York Mets and the Rangers, have been actively signing Cuban defectors. Orlando Hernandez, a player Angelos said the Orioles scouted before the Cuba trip, was the Yankees' ace during their World Series run last year.
It would be difficult for a player to bring charges against Angelos and the Orioles, said Paul Anderson, assistant dean of the National Sports Law Institute at Marquette University.
"A defector himself would have to sue. You couldn't have someone else come forward on behalf of a class," Anderson said.

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