Possibly putting a damper on the annual tennis tournament currently underway in New York, a group of four U.S. Open umpires have filed a federal wage lawsuit against the U.S. Tennis Association (USTA), claiming that the organization misclassified the officials as independent contractors so that they could avoid offering overtime pay and other benefits.
Seeking class action status, the lawsuit covers all U.S. Open umpires since 2005, many of whom were only paid between $115 and $200 a day despite working in excess of 40 hours a week.
With the recent onslaught of high-profile overtime wage lawsuits and a renewed enforcement effort by the U.S. Department of Labor, it's no wonder that this group of U.S. Open umpires have decided to file suit at this time.
Like many of these lawsuits, their cause of action comes down to whether they were properly classified as independent contractors--a designation that exempts employers from overtime laws.
Though there is often a fine line between an employee and independent contractor, an independent contractor has significantly more freedom in how and when he accomplishes his tasks.
The umpires argue that they have little say over their jobs, according to Bloomberg, pointing out that the USTA assigns their work, sets pay and hours, a dress code, and governs their conduct on and off the court.
The USTA told Reuters that the umpires only work for a brief period of the year.
This may very well be true, but it doesn't mean that U.S. Open umpires are independent contractors instead of seasonal employees. And right now, it's looking like it's the latter.
- Many Top Umpires Decide to Skip the Open (New York Times)
- Independent Contractors: Overview (FindLaw)
- Independent Contractor vs Employee: IRS Cracks Down (FindLaw's Free Enterprise)