US judge dismisses student athlete’s minimum wage and overtime pay claim

A US district judge has dismissed a class-action lawsuit that sought to provide the minimum wage and overtime pay to American football players for university sports teams in the US.

The case, which was heard at the California Northern District Court, was brought by Lamar Dawson, a former American football player for the University of Southern California, against the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) and the Pac-12 Conference, a collegiate athletics network.

Dawson argued that the NCAA and Pac-12 were joint employers of student athletes who played in the Division 1 Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS), on behalf of the US universities that were members of these associations.

On this basis, Dawson claimed that he was denied full pay for hours worked, including overtime pay, and was permitted to work without receiving the minimum wage. This, he claimed, was a violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and the California Labor Code.

Dawson contended that American football student athletes play for the economic benefit of the NCAA, and Division 1 football players generate income for their respective universities. However, the judge found that case law does not support the premise that revenue generation determines employment status.

The case, which was filed in September 2016, was dismissed without leave to amend by district judge Richard Seeborg on 25 April 2017. He concluded that there was no legal grounding to classify student American football players as employees.

In the judgement, Seeborg said: “Leaving aside the policy question of whether and how Division 1 FBS college football players should be compensated, there is simply no legal basis for finding them to be ‘employees’ under the FLSA. The guidance from the Department of Labor weighs against such a finding, as do the decisions from courts that have considered the issue. Dawson’s FLSA claim must therefore be dismissed.”

Mark Rifkin, partner at law firm Wolf Haldenstein, which represented Dawson, said: “We believe the court’s decision dismissing Mr Dawson’s wage and hour complaint is inconsistent with [ninth] circuit precedent. In O’Bannon [v NCAA], the [ninth] circuit described the exchange of labor for consideration. Given the NCAA’s control over the work performed by the football players and over their compensation, the relationship is one of employer and employee.”

Donald Remy, chief legal officer at the NCAA, added: “The NCAA is pleased that the District Court dismissed the Dawson case. As we have said in this case and others before it, there is no legal support for the idea that college athletics participation makes a student a university employee. Playing college sports allows students to get a quality education and build skills to prepare them for success after college. It is unfortunate we must continue to expend resources on cases that copy previously dismissed lawsuits.”

Larry Scott, commissioner at Pac-12, said: “We are pleased with the ruling as it reaffirms our conviction that college athletes are students at our universities and not employees. We remain committed to meeting the evolving needs of college athletes, and support the court’s decision to uphold amateurism as integral to college spirts and our universities’ academic missions.”