Tennis Umpires Claim that U.S. Open's Overtime Policies Are Out of Line

On September 8, 2011, four tennis umpires brought suit in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York. Their lawsuit accuses the United States Tennis Association ("USTA") of violation of federal and state overtime laws. The suit alleges that the USTA deprived umpires of overtime pay for their work officiating tennis matches during the US Open, an annual 3-week tennis tournament sponsored and managed by the USTA and held at the USTA-owned National Tennis Center in New York. In their lawsuit, the umpires petitioned the court for class certification for some of their claims and, ultimately, a money award equal to their unpaid overtime plus interest, as well as liquidated damages, attorney's fees, and court costs.

The first claim in the suit alleges that USTA commonly required the umpires to work in excess of forty hours per week, without giving them the time-and-a-half overtime pay required by the national Fair Labor Standards Act ("FLSA"). The complaint states that the USTA arranged for the umpires to be picked up for work as early as 7:30+ a.m., and that the umpires would sometimes officiate matches through the night and into the early morning hours. The lawsuit further alleges that the USTA's failure to pay overtime was willful. Willful violations of the FLSA lengthen the statute of limitations from two years to three, enabling plaintiffs with older claims to file suit and increasing the amount of back pay they can recover.

Because the U.S. Open takes place in New York, the USTA may also have violated the New York Labor Law ("NYLL"). The second claim in the suit alleged violation of the NYLL's mandatory overtime provisions, which are similar to those of the FLSA. The third claim in the suit alleged UTSA's violation of the NYLL's timely wage requirements--the NYLL requires that some types of workers receive their hourly wages within seven days of the end of the week in which the hours are worked.

According to the complaint, the USTA did not pay the umpires hourly wages, but instead compensated the them by the day, in amounts varying from $115 to $200. The complaint asserts that the USTA misclassified the umpires as independent contractors. True independent contractors are exempt from mandatory overtime laws. Whether a worker is an independent contractor or an employee entitled to mandatory overtime is determined by the factual circumstances of his/her employment, not by labels assigned by the employer or employee. In support of the accusation that the umpires were misclassified, the lawsuit states that the umpires did not negotiate their salaries or determine their own schedules, and that they were not allowed to work for other employers during the U.S. Open.

The umpires seek recovery for themselves and for other umpires that may have been illegally denied overtime by the USTA. The FLSA claim in the lawsuit is a collective action that can be joined on an opt-in basis by anyone who worked as an umpire at the National Tennis Center at any time since 2009. The umpires are seeking class certification for their NYLL claims. If granted, this class certification would join all those who worked as umpires at the National Tennis Center at any time since 2005, unless they file a document with the Court to specifically opt-out of the suit. As noted previously, collective and class actions enable many plaintiffs to be represented in a single lawsuit and enhance their bargaining power in settlement negotiations.

If you think that you are not receiving proper compensation because you have been misclassified, or if you want to know more about your rights to overtime pay, you should consult a St. Louis overtime attorney.