FLSA Does Not Apply to College Athletes, Federal District Judge Finds

Author: David B. Weisenfeld, XpertHR Legal Editor

February 26, 2016

A federal district court in Indiana has dismissed a major Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) lawsuit brought by University of Pennsylvania track athletes against the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) that could have placed more than 100 universities at significant liability risk. The suit had claimed that student athletes meet the criteria for temporary employees of their universities and should be covered under the FLSA.

The athletes likened their status to that of other students employed by colleges in work-study positions and claimed that they were entitled to earn at least $7.25 per hour - the federal minimum wage. And, since the NCAA's rules apply to all member schools, they said the NCAA and the universities were liable under the FLSA.

In rejecting those claims, US District Judge William T. Lawrence found that Congress did not intend for the FLSA to apply to college athletes. He also noted that the existence of thousands of student athletes on college campuses is hardly a secret and yet, he wrote, "The Department of Labor has not taken any action to apply the FLSA to them."

Judge Lawrence added that millions of Americans participate in amateur sports in countless contexts for myriad reasons, none of which, by definition, involve monetary compensation.

The ruling comes six months after the National Labor Relations Board dismissed an attempt by Northwestern University football players to unionize in a case that sparked nationwide debate. In that case, the players claimed they were university employees and should be allowed to form a union and collectively bargain.