SAN FRANCISCO — A University of Southern California (USC) football linebacker is taking the lead in a lawsuit against the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) and Pac-12 Conference in an ongoing struggle over pay for college athletics, claiming the organizations owe student-athletes unpaid wages and overtime. 

University of Minnesota law school professor Laura Cooper told the Northern California Record that states are responsible for formulating the definitions for what actually constitutes an employee and this class-action lawsuit alleges that the conference and athletics organization owe players similarly situated overtime and minimum wages due as employees. Cooper worked alongside the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) regional director from Chicago that ruled Northwestern University football players were actually employees. 

NLRB regional director, Peter Sung Ohr, ruled that under the National National Labor Relations Act, the conditions under which the players acted for the university football program meant they could be construed as employees on a contract for hire basis. His rationale for determining the players had the right to minimum wage compensation was the demands of the off-campus and non-academic related activities and behavior monitoring instituted by the football program.

Ohr said the university's argument that these duties are no different than graduate students is inaccurate, because graduate student duties are inextricably linked to their academic studies, whereas those activities in the football program are mostly not linked to academic studies. Northwestern University, however, objects to that decision and is seeking an appeal and overturning of that ruling. The NLRB also recently rejected a request by Northwestern athletes to form the first-of-a-kind union by refusing to assert jurisdiction in a petition from College Athletes Players Association (CAPA). 

Cooper said the buck stops with the states themselves. 

"They each draw their own line," Cooper told the Northern California Record. "All states are independent and define the laws that interpret and define what employees are and are not."

Cooper also said there are other factors and issues to consider and contend with as well, including regulation agencies, various laws at the federal and state level and other complex scenarios that are being examined by courts today. 

"It's not just a state by state either," Cooper said. "It's issue by issue. There are issues in NLRB, EEO (Equal Employment Opportunity) and a number of others. You just can't generalize at all."

Lamar Dawson, the USC football player who filed the class-action lawsuit against the NCAA and Pac-12, alleges violations of Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and California's labor code against the two student athletic institutions. The suit also asserts the institutions are joint employers not paying minimum wage or overtime. The suit also asserts that the sport related activities required restrict players ability to earn income while in college. 

The NCAA does not agree and asserts that student-athletes are students first and foremost and are not to be considered employees. The Pac-12 has mirrored those statements. 

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