While many tennis fans got to watch a much anticipated Djokovic-Nadal final at the 2011 U.S. Open, the most interesting draw at this year’s tournament may have been between the United States Tennis Association (USTA) and its umpires. Prior to the start of the U.S. Open, 13 of the world’s 26 top-rated umpires decided not to officiate at this year’s tournament. The absentee umpires stayed home in protest of a 30% pay reduction by the USTA and what they considered to be generally inadequate compensation compared to other Grand Slam tournaments. The USTA-umpire saga took on an added intensity when umpires Steven Meyer, Marc Bell, Larry Mulligan-Gibbs, and Aimee Johnson went from the tennis court to federal court.
On September 8, the four umpires served up a complaint against the USTA in the Southern District of New York. The complaint alleges that the USTA violated the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and the New York Labor Law (NYLL), Articles 6 and 19, respectively, by not providing overtime pay to umpires who worked at the U.S. Open. According to the complaint, U.S. Open umpires routinely worked more than 40 hours per week but were never given overtime pay. Instead, umpires were given a standard daily wage that was never adjusted when umpires worked more than 40 hours during a week. Both the NYLL and the FLSA require employers to pay time-and-a-half for any overtime worked when an employee works more than 40 hours during a week.
The complaint seeks back overtime pay not only for the named plaintiffs, but for all umpires affected by the USTA’s alleged miscategorization of umpires as independent contractors. The complaint alleges that the USTA owes overtime pay plus interest to umpires who worked at the tournament as far back as 2005, with approximately 300 umpires working at the tournament annually.
On September 30, the USTA filed its answer to the complaint. The USTA argues that the umpires, who work at a tournament that is only three weeks long, are not employees entitled to mandatory overtime pay, but independent contractors. Under the FLSA and NYLL, workers are not entitled to overtime pay unless they are in an employer-employee relationship. Independent contractors are not considered employees under the FLSA or NYLL, and therefore not entitled to mandatory overtime pay.
Although there is no clear-cut definition of what constitutes an employee for purposes of the FLSA or NYLL, courts typically look to a series of factors to determine whether a worker is an employee or independent contractor. Some factors that the court might use to answer this question include the degree of control that umpires have in performing their duties, the permanency of their working relationship with the USTA, the umpires’ opportunities for profit and loss related to their work, and the extent to which the umpires’ services are an integral part of the USTA’s business.