Update on Lamar Dawson’s Student-Athlete Wage Suit
On April 4, 2018, attorneys representing the NCAA wrote a letter to the Ninth Circuit notifying the court that the U.S. Supreme Court recently reversed a Ninth Circuit decision that the plaintiff, Lamar Dawson, cited in his opening brief. As we have previously reported, Dawson began a class-action lawsuit in September 2016, alleging the NCAA and Pac-12 violated California law and the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) by not paying student-athletes minimum wage or overtime. In April 2017, the NCAA’s motion to dismiss was granted because student-athletes were not “employees” within the meaning of the FSLA. On January 10, 2018, Dawson submitted a brief stating that student-athletes were “employees” within the FLSA and the NCAA and PAC-12 failed to pay athletes minimum wage, overtime, or to make timely compensation to student-athletes, violating the FSLA.
In the letter, the attorneys representing the NCAA notified the court about the recent Encino Motorcars, LLC v. Navarro decision. In Encino, the Supreme Court “reversed a decision of the [Ninth Circuit] that plaintiff-appellant Lamar Dawson’s opening brief cited, and specifically rejected the proposition for which Dawson cited the decision.” In the opinion, the court wrote, “The Ninth Circuit … invoked the principle that exemptions to the FLSA should be construed narrowly. We reject this principle as a useful guidepost for interpreting the FLSA.” Rather, the Supreme Court held, courts must give the exemptions in Section 213 of the FLSA “a fair reading.” According to the NCAA, Dawson cited Encino and argued that student-athletes were not specifically listed as exemptions Section 213, and the Ninth Circuit had previously ruled that the exemptions should be read narrowly, thus student-athletes should at least be paid minimum wage. According to the letter from the NCAA attorneys, the Encino decision overrules Dawson’s argument.