One More Time: New Lawsuit Argues NCAA Must Pay Athletes Minimum Wage

Trey Johnson, a former defensive back for Villanova University, has sued the NCAA, arguing that the organization has violated federal labor law and that it must pay student-athletes a minimum wage.

In his lawsuit, Johnson argues that student-athletes clearly constitute employees under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). Specifically, he notes that college students in work-study programs are classified as employees, meaning that they are subject to minimum wage laws. Meanwhile, student-athletes, who work longer schedules and create the need for some of these work-study positions, receive no pay.

Johnson’s complaint, which is 116 pages long, discusses in extensive detail why student-athletes constitute employees under FLSA, focusing on both the Glatt and Donovan tests. Particular emphasis is placed on how the schedule of a student-athlete is not tailored to suit the student’s academic calendar and is indistinguishable from that of an overworked employee. Johnson also stated that the ability of Division I coaches to prevent student-athletes from transferring to other colleges is equivalent to non-compete clauses in employment contracts.

This new lawsuit is very similar to one filed by fellow Villanova student, Lawrence “Poppy” Livers, which we reported on last year. While Livers’ lawsuit survived various motions to dismiss, it ended inconclusively in April when he withdrew from the suit. The lawyer behind Livers’ lawsuit, Paul L. McDonald, is also the lawyer representing Johnson. The lawsuit is currently seeking class certification for two classes: the first is all NCAA Division I athletes, and the second is all Pennsylvania Division I athletes, both of which meet the relevant statutes of limitations.

Johnson’s lawsuit comes at a time where the rules of student-athlete compensation are rapidly changing. After California enacted the groundbreaking Fair Pay to Play Act in September, as well as a series of proposed legislation across the country, the NCAA announced that it will begin to allow student-athletes to be compensated for their names, images, and likenesses. In addition, a major appeal in a significant student-athlete compensation case is currently pending in the Ninth Circuit. We will continue to monitor the situation.

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