College athletes are employees who ought to be paid wages, a previous University of Southern California football player affirms in a claim filed against the NCAA and the PAC‑12 Conference this week.
Lamar Dawson, who played linebacker at USC from 2011 to 2015, filed the proposed class-activity suit in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California on Monday.
The claim varies from other prominent cases against the NCAA, which have charged that the governing organization for college sports has abused antitrust law by setting fake caps of cash athletes can get.
This suit, by difference, fights that athletes meet the definition of “employees” under both federal and California state wage and hour laws, and that the NCAA and PAC-12 abused those laws by not appropriately remunerating them for work and overtime. Players, it says, were required to work over eight hours a day and 40 hours a week without adequate compensation, and the suit looks for unpaid wages, overtime pay and damages.
At USC, Dawson was “repeatedly paid a substandard wage insofar as he was denied full pay for all hours worked, including overtime pay, and was frequently permitted to work without receiving required minimum wage payments,” as per the suit.
Both the PAC-12 and NCAA said they disagreed the case.
“We are currently evaluating the claim, but strongly disagree with the notion that college students participating in athletics are employees,” NCAA chief legal officer Donald Remy said in an email explanation. “Our experience is that these college students, like their non-athlete colleagues, are very focused on their academic endeavors. Moreover, they have a passion for their sport and a commitment to their teammates that can’t be equated to punching a time clock.”
“We have conducted an initial review of the complaint and will vigorously defend ourselves,” a PAC-12 spokesperson said. “As has been made clear through the legal process, student-athletes are not employees.”
The suit’s case lays on the contention that under NCAA and conference rules, school athletic projects apply enough control over athletes to qualify them as workers under federal and state work law. That contention is like the one Northwestern University football players made when they endeavored in 2014 to create the first player’s union for college athletes ― however, those players made no mention of wages.
All athletes make great sacrifices, and they all make great contributions, but players who play in big-time, big-revenue sports really stand in a different position.
The Chicago regional chapter of the National Labor Relations Board concurred that the Northwestern athletes met the definition of “employee” under federal labor law. The full NLRB, however, refuted that decision when it declined a year ago to state its locale for the situation.
In February, a federal court in Indiana released a suit documented by track and field athletes at the University of Pennsylvania that was like Dawson’s. The athletes have advanced the decision.
Mark C. Rifkin, one of Dawson’s lawyers, trusts the new case is more grounded because it includes college football players.
“I think there’s something special about players in the big-revenue, big-money sports like [major conference] football,” Rifkin said. “It’s just different. All athletes make great sacrifices, and they all make great contributions, but players who play in big-time, big-revenue sports stand in a different position. It’s an entirely different relationship between the conference and the player and the NCAA and the player.”
The NCAA is presently confronting no less than two other legal challenge over remuneration for college athletes. A class-activity antitrust suit initially brought by former UCLA ball star Ed O’Bannon could soon wind up before the Supreme Court; in August, a government judge dismisses the NCAA’s endeavors to reject another antitrust case headed by prominent labor attorney Jeffrey Kessler.
Rifkin’s case contrasts from those, yet he said it goes up against the same basic idea.
“These are all part of a sort of growing trend toward recognizing student-athletes as participants in a major business venture, and treating them fairly given their role in that business,” Rifkin said.