A former collegiate soccer player has claimed in a class action lawsuit filed on behalf of herself and all student-athletes who have participated recently in Division I women’s and men’s sports that the NCAA and Division I colleges and universities are violating the minimum wage provisions of the Fair Labor Standards Act (the “FLSA”). Samantha Sackos, a former women’s soccer player for the University of Houston, contends that she and other student-athletes are entitled to at least the federal minimum wage for their athletic time commitments.
Student-athletes are “employees” of their universities under the FLSA, Sackos contends, and student-athletes at Division I schools are comparable to students who participate in work-study programs. She claims that they, too, perform non-academic functions for no academic credit, are supervised by full-time college staff in the normal course of staff duties, and confer benefits on their college. But, unlike work-study participants, student-athletes are not paid for the time they spend performing their duties, the suit alleges.
Although Sackos attended only one Division I school, all 352 Division I institutions are named as defendants in the lawsuit, along with the NCAA. Sackos accuses the NCAA and the schools of conspiring to violate the FLSA because the NCAA’s bylaws “prohibit recognition of student athletes as temporary employees under the FLSA and the lawful payment of modest wages to student athletes ….” Sackos also alleges that the NCAA compels member schools to comply “under the threat of competition and financial penalties.” The member schools, in turn, adopt the NCAA’s bylaws and its bylaw enforcement program.
The suit was filed in federal court in Indianapolis, where the NCAA is headquartered.
The suit raises related questions, as well. For example: If student-athletes are “employees,” who is their “employer” – the NCAA, the college, and/or the college athletic department? It also remains to be seen whether Sackos may proceed with a lawsuit against all 352 Division I schools, or only the one she attended . Similarly, schools outside of Indiana who are named as defendants may argue that the court lacks jurisdiction over them.
The suit follows a recent attempt by football players at Northwestern University to unionize under the National Labor Relations Act. An NLRB Regional Director in Chicago found some of the players were employees and could form a union. That case is currently on review before the NLRB in Washington. Absent Congressional action or a Supreme Court decision providing uniformity in the treatment of college student athletes, the asserted “employee” status of these individuals and the applicability of workplace laws to their college sports activity likely will continue to be the subject of litigation.