A federal judge in Pennsylvania on Wednesday denied the NCAA’s request for dismissal of a lawsuit that seeks to have Division I athletes classified as employees of their schools who are entitled to hourly wages.
The ruling was the second in four weeks in which U.S. District Judge John R. Padova refused to dismiss the NCAA from the case. In the first, Padova ruled that lawyers for the plaintiffs had met the basic standard of plausibly alleging that athletes “are employees … for purposes of the” Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).
Wednesday’s ruling dismissed a sizable group of co-defendant schools from the case. But under an amended complaint that Padova is allowing the plaintiffs to file, a new set of schools will be added to the case, including the University of Oregon, the University of Arizona, Notre Dame, Duke and Purdue.
Supreme Court’s ruling in the Alston antitrust case. That decision helped set the stage for this summer’s transition to an environment in which athletes can be compensated for use of their name, image and likeness with virtually no interference from NCAA rules.
This suit is grounded in the plaintiffs’ contention that athletes should be treated as employees because, among other factors:
► Athletes are required to participate in certain activities.
► The hours that they spend on those activities are recorded on time sheets because of the NCAA’s limits on the number of hours athletes are supposed to required to spend on their sports each week.
► The schools exercise significant control over the athletes, through various rules and handbooks.
The suit also contends that because the NCAA’s rules apply to all schools, the association and the schools jointly employ the athletes. In Wednesday’s ruling, Padova wrote that schools themselves do not “promulgate work rules …and/or set the conditions of participation for student athletes in NCAA intercollegiate athletics.”
But because the NCAA does, Padova wrote, “The complaint plausibly alleges that the NCAA is a joint employer of Plaintiffs for purposes of the FLSA and, accordingly, that Plaintiffs have standing to sue the NCAA.”
While noting that the case will have to go through numerous steps before reaching trial, the plaintiffs’ lead attorney, Paul McDonald, said that with Wednesday’s ruling: “I think we’re in good shape. We’ll get a chance to make our case with evidence.”
And he contends that the evidence will show that “anytime a student does non-academic work that benefits the university,” the student gets paid. “If the student showing you to your seat or selling you popcorn meets the standard” of being an employee, then “the students who are at the heart of the enterprise” do, as well.
The NCAA said in a statement Wednesday night: “The ruling is based on a preliminary view of the plaintiffs’ allegations, and we are confident that when the court has a chance to see the actual evidence, it will agree with the many previous courts who have held that student-athletes are not employees.”