NCAA, PAC-12 Hit With Claim Football Players Are Employees

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By Jon Steingart

Sept. 27 — College football players are employees of the National Collegiate Athletic Association and are owed wages, a new lawsuit asserts ( Dawson v. Nat’l Collegiate Athletic Ass’n , N.D. Cal., No. 3:16-cv-05487, complaint filed 9/26/16 ).

The lawsuit follows unsuccessful efforts to establish employee rights for student athletes based on labor and antitrust laws. In August 2015, the National Labor Relations Board dismissed a union-backed effort to hold an election to organize football players at Northwestern University without ruling on whether they are employees. And in September 2015, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit said the NCAA didn’t fix prices when it established limits on stipends colleges may pay athletes to cover attendance costs.

“Between the union case, the antitrust case and this case, all of the complaints are looking at the same thing,” Mark Rifkin, an attorney representing former University of Southern California linebacker Lamar Dawson, told Bloomberg BNA Sept. 27. “The reality of the relationship between the students and the universities they work for is that the athletes deserve to be compensated for the enormous value they bring to the universities.”

FLSA Implications?

Dawson seeks to represent a class of football players at all NCAA schools. The NCAA and the PAC-12 Conference, to which USC belongs, fail to pay their player-employees minimum wage and overtime as required by the Fair Labor Standards Act, even though they’re subject to a high degree of control on and off campus, the lawsuit says.

The complaint, filed Sept. 26 in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, also asserts claims under California wage and hour law on behalf of members of a sub-class of college athletes in the Golden State.

“We are currently evaluating the claim, but strongly disagree with the notion that college students participating in athletics are employees,” Donald Remy, the NCAA’s chief legal officer, told Bloomberg BNA by e-mail Sept. 27. “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.”

Required Adherence to Rules Alleged

The athletes are required to adhere to the NCAA and PAC-12 Conference’s rules concerning their daily activities, the complaint alleges. This includes scheduled times they must report for games, practices, classes and study sessions.

A similar lawsuit against the NCAA and more than 120 member schools by University of Pennsylvania track and field athletes failed in February. A judge in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana ruled that the athletes lacked standing to sue schools they didn’t attend and that participating in a team doesn’t make them employees.

The Penn athletes appealed their loss to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit. Oral argument is scheduled for Sept. 28.

The PAC-12 Conference didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment Sept. 27.

Rifkin is with Wolf Haldenstein Adler Freeman & Herz LLP in New York City. Attorneys Betsy Manifold, Rachele Rickert, Marisa Livesay and Brittany Dejong in its San Diego office; Jeffrey Smith in its New York City office; and two attorneys from the Law Offices of John M. Kelson, John M. Kelson in Oakland, Calif., and Jerry K. Cimmet in San Mateo, Calif., also represent the putative class. An attorney hasn’t entered an appearance for the NCAA or the PAC-12 Conference.

To contact the reporter on this story: Jon Steingart in Washington at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Susan J. McGolrick at

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