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Ninth Circuit Tells College Football Player He is Not Employee

Lamar Dawson played football for the University of Southern California, which is a member of the PAC-12 athletic conference. In a class-action lawsuit against the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) and the PAC-12, he claimed that he was not paid minimum wage for the hours he worked, including overtime. He alleged that the two organizations were joint employers and were liable to him under the Fair Labor and Standards Act as well as the California Labor Code.

Upholding the conclusion reached by a California district court, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that collegiate football players are not employees of NCAA or PAC-12 as a matter of federal law.

The NCAA member schools include over 1,000 colleges and universities across the country with member schools agreeing to comply with certain bylaws. These bylaws include the rule that student-athletes may not be paid to participate in the athletic programs. The athletes may receive financial aid but the aid cannot exceed the cost of attending school. In concluding that Dawson was not an employee, the court applied the “economic realities” test which looks at the expectation of compensation, the power to hire and fire, and evidence that an arrangement was made to evade the law. The court did not find that the regulation limiting Dawson’s scholarship created an expectation of payment from the NCAA or the PAC-12. Moreover, these associations did not have the power to hire or fire Dawson as USC chose him and supervised him. Next, there was no evidence of trying to evade the law because these rules predated the FLSA. Similarly, there was no support Dawson was an employee under California law which has several statutes, including the Fair Employment and Housing Act, that expressly exclude student-athletes from being considered employees.