On Appeal, Former USC Linebacker Tackles Judge’s Ruling with Misapplication of Law Claims

In September 2016, Lamar Dawson, a former USC linebacker, filed a class-action suit against both the NCAA and Pac-12 Conference alleging violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act and California Labor Law. Dawson claimed the NCAA and Pac-12 failed to pay athletes minimum wage, failed to pay overtime, and failed to make timely compensation to athletes. He argued that he, among other student athletes, were without a doubt employees.

The NCAA and Pac-12 moved to dismiss the suit in January 2017, and in April, Judge Seeborg of the United States District Court for the Northern District of California, granted their request. Judge Seeborg stated Dawson’s suit was based on an unsustainable legal theory, concluding student athletes were not employees.

After dismissal of his suit in April, Dawson filed an appeal in May. More recently, in his brief just submitted, Dawson argues Judge Seeborg erred in deciding student athletes were not employees. He contends Judge Seeborg ignored applicable appellate case law and relied on cases that were drastically factually different then the circumstances set forth in his suit.

Dawson claims Judge Seeborg’s conclusion is incompatible with previous appellate decisions such as O’Bannon v. NCAA, 802 F.3d 1049 (9th Cir. 2016) and Bonnette v. Cal. Health & Welfare Agency, 704 F.2d 1465 (9th Cir. 1983). In furthering his argument that student athletes should be considered employees, Dawson relies on the four-factor employment test established in Bonnette.

Dawson also asserts Judge Seeborg erred by ignoring Judge Hamilton’s dissent in Berger v. NCAA, 843 F.3d 285 (7th Cir. 2016). Dawson uses Judge Hamilton’s dissent in Berger to argue Division I athletes who participate in a revenue-generating sport are categorically different than other athletes, and due to the economic realities surrounding revenue-generating sports, these athletes should be considered employees.

Lastly, Dawson alleges Judge Seeborg ignored a NLRB report that supported his claim and applied state labor codes too broadly. His brief states he, as well as other athletes, were “denied [] compensation or remedy for the work previously done by them as contract student athletes for the substantial economic benefit that they incontestably conferred on the defendants.”

In sum, due to Judge Seeborg’s alleged misappropriations of law, Dawson urges the Ninth Circuit to reverse Judge Seeborg’s ruling and revive his case.

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