D.C. Circuit Opinion Rules That Lacrosse Officials in Pennsylvania Are Independent Contractors

The D.C. Circuit ruled on June 14, 2019, that lacrosse officials working for the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association (PIAA) are independent contractors and not employees. This ruling deems the officials ineligible to organize under the National Labor Relations Act, according to an opinion filed by Circuit Judge Thomas B. Griffith last Friday. Despite the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) agreeing to declare the workers “employees” under their own standards, a three-judge D.C. Circuit panel determined that the NLRB did not account for the infrequency in which these workers are paid.

The appeal board concluded that these amateur lacrosse officials are to be considered “independent contractors.” This appeal came after the Office and Professional Employees International Union gathered 140 lacrosse referees in an effort to organize a union. The PIAA contested whether the workers had a right to organize because the officials are independent contractors and not employees. The NLRB denied this assertion, allowing officials to vote on whether to unionize.

The court acknowledged that the NLRB “. . . erroneously discounted this short duration of the officials’ employment . .  .” The opinion particularly indicated that these workers only work two to three games per week in a seven-week schedule. It is only during postseason play that the PIAA directly involved itself in selecting and paying officials. For regular season games, the officials are paid by the schools and not the PIAA. Furthermore, the court mentioned that officials only work for about two hours per game.

One strong counterargument the court acknowledged was that the officials are required to purchase their own equipment when working, including their whistles, penalty markers and writing implements. Each of these items were required of the PIAA. However, the officials’ arguments were not strong enough to sway the court into ruling in their favor.

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