A putative collective action on behalf of college athletes, Sackos v. National Collegiate Athletic Association, was recently filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana against the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) and hundreds of NCAA Division I universities and colleges. In the lawsuit, plaintiff Samantha Sackos, a former soccer player at the University of Houston, alleges that student-athletes are temporary employees and that the NCAA and its Division I schools have violated the wage and hour provisions of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) by failing to pay student-athletes the federal minimum wage.

The complaint purports to highlight meaningful similarities between student-athletes, who are not paid, and work-study students, who do receive wages. The complaint states: “Student athletes meet the criteria for recognition as temporary employees of NCAA Division I Member Schools under the FLSA as much as, if not more than, work study participants.” According to the complaint, failing to pay student athletes leads to a “perverse result” in which “work study participants who sell programs or usher at athletic events are paid, on average, $9.03 an hour, but student athletes whose performance creates such work study jobs in the athletic department are paid nothing.”

The Sackos lawsuit, which seeks both monetary and injunctive relief, marks the latest attack in a national battle over the legal status and rights of student-athletes at the collegiate level. In August, a federal district judge struck down NCAA rules limiting compensation to student-athletes for the use of their names, images, and likenesses. Earlier this year, a regional director of the National Labor Relations Board issued a controversial ruling that certain Northwestern University football players were employees within the meaning of the National Labor Relations Act and therefore had the right to unionize. The NCAA and Northwestern are seeking to appeal those decisions.

Attorneys in Ballard Spahr’s Labor and Employment and Higher Education Groups, having represented several universities on the issue of graduate students attempting to unionize, have substantial experience with matters involving students as employees under state and federal labor law and can assist with employee classification issues. Ballard Spahr attorney John B. Langel will be speaking on this topic at a Pennsylvania Bar Institute (PBI) program on December 5. Please visit the PBI website for additional information and to register.

For more information, contact David S. Fryman at 215.864.8105 or fryman@ballardspahr.com, Katherine J. Atkinson at 215.864.8366 or atkinsonk@ballardspahr.com, or the member of either Group with whom you work.

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