Efforts of UPenn Athletes to Obtain Employee Status Denied Once Again

Following the dismissal of a suit brought by UPenn athletes seeking compensation as employees under the FLSA, the athletes are arguing that the Seventh Circuit’s reliance on a 1992 Seventh Circuit case, which rejected Fair Labor Standards claims brought by a prisoner, essentially placed them on similar legal footing as prison laborers. Though the athletes are aware fighting for employee status as college athletes is far-fetched based on the courts’ consistent denial of such claims, the UPenn athletes’ argument rests on the proposition that they did not get a fair stab at discovery, and they should have, which places them in a similar legal status as prisoners.

The case the court relied on in its dismissal was Vanskike v. Peters, in which the court focused on the “economic reality” of prisoners’ relationship with the Department of Corrections in holding that there was no employer-employee relationship, similar to the UPenn athletes’ relationship to the university by virtue of the tradition of amateurism in college sports. The court emphasized the fact that for years students have jumped at the opportunity to participate in the school’s athletics, without the prospect of compensation, and that participation is voluntary.

According to the athlete’s attorney, Paul McDonald, the court neglected to engage in a fact-intensive analysis in solely relying on Vanskike as precedent, depriving the athletes of enjoying a bedrock principle of labor law while marking the first time a court has utilized a prison labor case to dismiss an action brought by a nonconvict. Many others are of the view that the court was simply affirming prior precedent that clearly demonstrates that student-athletes are not, and cannot, be considered employees. As a result, students’ only remaining option is to are petition to the Supreme Court.

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