Former USC linebacker Lamar Dawson sued the NCAA and Pac-12 on Monday, alleging the organizations violated state and federal laws governing wages and hours as “joint employers” of Division I football players.
Filed in U.S. District Court in San Francisco, the class-action lawsuit accused the NCAA and Pac-12 of breaching the Fair Labor Standards Act and California law by not paying football players minimum wage or overtime. “Plaintiff was repeatedly paid a substandard wage insofar as he was denied full pay for all hours worked, including overtime pay, and was frequently permitted to work without receiving required minimum wage payments,” the 45-page complaint said.
Dawson, a prize recruit out of high school in Kentucky, played for USC from 2011 through 2015. He started during three seasons but was a backup last year until a shoulder injury prematurely ended his season.
“The NCAA and the leagues are big business that derive enormous financial benefits from the labor of the athletes,” Dawson’s New York-based attorney, Mark Rifkin, said in an email. “The undeniable economic reality of that relationship requires the athletes to be recognized as employees. Therefore, the athletes must be paid mandatory minimum wages and overtime for their labor.”
A Pac-12 spokesman said the conference has reviewed the lawsuit and will “vigorously” defend itself.
“As has been made clear throughout the legal process, student-athletes are not employees,” the spokesman said.
The NCAA disputed the complaint’s premise.
“(We) strongly disagree with the notion that college students participating in athletics are employees,” Donald Remy, the organization’s chief legal officer, said in a statement. “Our experience is that these college students, like their non-athlete colleagues, are very focused on their academic endeavors. Moreover, they have a passion for their sport and a commitment to their teammates that can’t be equated to punching a time clock.”
The lawsuit, which also accused the NCAA and Pac-12 of unfair business practices, seeks unpaid wages and overtime, plus interest, in addition to a variety of unspecified damages.