SBJ/July 23-29, 2012/Labor and Agents

USTA, umpires head to court over pay dispute

The U.S. Tennis Association is due next week to tell a federal court in New York why as many as 900 umpires and other on-court officials should not be certified as a class as part of a lawsuit filed against the tennis group for back pay.

Four umpires during the U.S. Open Tennis Championships last year filed a lawsuit contending that the USTA, which owns the two-week event, significantly underpays them by not offering overtime. Two additional umpires have since opted into the lawsuit.

The USTA, in a court filing, claims the umpires and referees are independent contractors and have no right to overtime pay. The referees counter that because there are employment terms set for them by the USTA, they qualify for overtime pay for working additional hours.

Lawyers for the referees want the USTA to hand over the email list of all the officials who have worked the Open since 2005 so a notice of a potential class can be sent and a meeting set at next month’s Open. The USTA is resisting that move.

“If the Notice is sent before the Open, the Umpires will have the opportunity to discuss this action amongst themselves when they are here for the Open,” the referees’ counsel told the court last week in the latest motion seeking to accelerate the certification process. “They will also have the opportunity to meet with Plaintiffs’ counsel, or any other New York counsel of their choice in the event they choose separate representation.”

While a decision on certifying a class is still to come, the court filings already submitted in the matter do provide a few details about the payment and working terms for tennis umpires. According to the umpires’ class-certification requests, umpires get between $115 and $250 per day for working the Open, with days often stretching beyond eight hours. In addition to the payment, each umpire is provided with a hotel room that is shared with another umpire.

The umpires sign a code of conduct that includes off-court behavior. According to the referees in their class-certification request, the USTA suspended one umpire for the 2008 Open because during the 2007 Open he “disturbed his roommate by bringing an ‘all night guest’ into his room without prior notification.”

The referees also said that in May, for the first time, the USTA began requiring umpires to sign an arbitration clause that essentially would pre-empt any claims for 2012 and beyond.

USTA officials were unavailable for comment beyond the statements made in the court filings.

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