On Monday, February 5, 2024, the National Labor Relations Board (“NLRB”) issued a landmark ruling that Dartmouth University men’s basketball players are considered university employees under federal labor laws.
Section 2(3) of the National Labor Relations Act (the “Act”) defines “employee” broadly to include “any employee.” The NLRB held that Dartmouth basketball players perform work for the benefit of Dartmouth, and Dartmouth exercises “significant control over the basketball players’ work.” The NLRB held that this conclusion is further supported by the fact that the basketball team performed work (i.e., attend games and practices) in exchange for compensation, which consisted of equipment, apparel, meals, lodging and other benefits. Given that “…Dartmouth has the right to control the work performed by the…men’s basketball team, and the players perform that work in exchange for compensation, [the NLRB] find[s] that the [Dartmouth] basketball players are employees within the meaning of the Act.”
Dartmouth argued that this ruling would mean “any student who participates in any extracurricular activity and receives need based financial aid could be deemed an employee under the Act.” However, the NLRB disagreed as it cited to many distinctions between mere students and the basketball players, such as extracurricular activities dominating basketball players’ schedules, travel requirements, recruitment, admittance through special processes, and the fact that the basketball program requires specialized employees to monitor funds and brand management.
The case was filed on September 18, 2023, and a hearing took place in October that saw witness testimony from current players and athletic department officials. Following this, the NLRB issued the decision stated above.
If the ruling stands, the Dartmouth men’s basketball players will be eligible to unionize, which could lead to drastic changes in how universities deal with their college athletes.
If you have any questions about the NLRB rule and how it may affect you as an employer, please contact Fadi K. Rasheed at firstname.lastname@example.org or 424.738.4400. Fadi is a Partner in Leech Tishman’s Labor & Employment and Litigation Practice groups, and he regularly advises clients on business, commercial litigation, entertainment, and employment matters.