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Meyer v. United States Tennis Association

United States District Court, S.D. New York

September 11, 2014

STEVEN MEYER, MARC BELL, LARRY MULLIGAN-GIBBS and AIMEE JOHNSON, on behalf of themselves and all others similarly situated, Plaintiffs,


ANDREW L. CARTER, Jr., District Judge.

Plaintiffs Steven Meyer, Marc Bell, Larry Mulligan-Gibbs and Aimee Johnson ("Plaintiffs"), individually and on behalf of all others similarly situated, brought this case against Defendant United States Tennis Association ("USTA" or "Defendant") for violating the Fair Labor Standards Act, 29 U.S.C. §§ 201 et seq. ("FLSA"), and New York Labor Law ("NYLL"). Plaintiffs assert that Defendants failed to compensate its tennis umpires for any hours worked in excess of forty hours per week. This Court granted Plaintiffs' Motion for Class Certification (ECF No. 84, superseded by ECF No. 372) on April 25, 2013. After extensive class certification and merits discovery, both parties have moved for summary judgment. For the reasons that follow, Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 364) is GRANTED, and Plaintiff's Cross-Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 380) is DENIED.

I. Factual Background

Plaintiffs Meyer, Bell, Johnson, and Mulligan-Gibbs work as umpires during the U.S. Open. Plaintiffs also work as umpires for other tennis associations, including the Association of Tennis Professionals, Women's Tennis Association, International Tennis Federation, Intercollegiate Tennis Association, and various national tennis associations. (Def.'s 56.1 ¶ 5, ECF No. 366). In addition to working as tennis umpires during the class period, some Plaintiffs also worked as lawyers, executives, or business managers for at least part of that period. ( Id. ¶¶ 1-4). For instance, Plaintiff Johnson "worked part time as a District Attorney in Louisiana" (Pls.' 56.1 ¶ 74, ECF No. 382); Plaintiff Meyer is an attorney in private practice (Def's 56.1 ¶ 1); and Plaintiff Gibbs is an executive with GlaxoSmithKline ( Id. ¶ 4).

Defendant USTA is a not-for-profit tennis organization. ( Id. ¶ 24; Pls.' 56.1 ¶ 75). Defendant promotes tennis in the United States through various recreational and professional tennis programs. (Def.'s 56.1 ¶ 25). "It promotes tennis at a community level by sponsoring and conducting a variety of recreational tennis tournaments and providing other opportunity to play and practice the game of tennis." ( Id. ¶ 26). "It also promotes tennis by sponsoring various professional spectator tennis events that are open to the general public." (Id.). One such spectator tennis event that Defendant owns and operates is the U.S. Open. (Pls.' 56.1 ¶¶ 76-77).

The U.S. Open is Defendant's signature event and one of the four "Grand Slam" tournaments. (See Compl. ¶ 2, ECF No. 1). The annual tournament takes place over a period of three weeks in late August and early September at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Queens, New York. (Id.; Def.'s 56.1 ¶ 27). Thousands of spectators come to watch men's and women's matches, juniors' matches, and wheelchair tennis matches. (Def.'s 56.1 ¶ 28). The first week of the U.S. Open is devoted to qualification matches; the second two weeks of the U.S. Open are known as the "main draw." (Pls.' 56.1 ¶¶ 81-82). Each day, play begins at 11:00 a.m. and ends anytime between early evening and well past midnight, depending on the weather and the length of the matches being played. ( Id. ¶ 79).

USTA obtains umpires to officiate matches at the U.S. Open from national and international tennis organizations. (Def.'s 56.1 ¶ 33). Some umpires live in the United States and are certified by the USTA. ( Id. ¶ 34). The national tennis associations of other countries recommend other umpires. ( Id. ¶ 35). Other tennis organizations supply still more umpires under agreements with the USTA. ( Id. ¶ 36). The umpires fulfill several different roles. At smaller events, umpires serve as "roving officials" who oversee multiple matches and resolve disputes between players making their own line calls. ( Id. ¶ 6). At larger events, umpires serve as chair or line umpires. (Id.). An official can work as both a chair umpire and a line umpire in the same tournament. (Pls.' 56.1 ¶ 91). Because tennis courts have ten lines, a "full crew" consists of the chair umpire and nine line umpires. ( Id. ¶ 93). Not all matches require a "full crew."

Chair umpires preside over a match. (Def.'s 56.1 ¶ 9). Their decisions on "questions of fact" are final and non-reviewable - subject only to a limited number of challenges a player can exercise during each match to review line calls with the U.S. Open's "Hawkeye" electronic line calling system. ( Id. ¶¶ 9, 50). They must also decide "questions of law" during a match, such as whether a player's conduct merits a warning or a penalty. ( Id. ¶ 51). Although usually applying a written rule, a chair umpire has "discretion" to decide "questions of law." (Pls.' 56.1 ¶¶ 98-99). At the request of a player, U.S. Open referees - off-court officials - can hear appeals of a chair umpire's decision on a "question of law" but only rarely overturn the chair umpire's decision. ( Id. ¶ 9; Def.'s 56.1 ¶ 53). A chair umpire may also decide to suspend a match because of weather conditions. (Def.'s 56.1 ¶ 52). Chair umpires officiate the entirety of the matches to which they are assigned. ( Id. ¶ 54).

Line umpires make line calls and monitor player compliance with the rules of tennis, which they may report to the chair umpire. ( Id. ¶ 7). Line umpires' decisions on "questions of fact, " such as whether a ball is in or out, can only be overturned by the chair umpire. ( Id. ¶ 8). Line umpires also have the discretion to decide whether to report a player's technical violation of the rules of tennis, subject only to an even application of their decisions. ( Id. ¶¶ 47-49). As line umpires, officials would work one-hour-on, one-hour-off at a specified court for all or part of the day. ( Id. ¶ 46).

Umpires may pursue several levels of certification through various organizations. ( Id. ¶ 11). USTA certifies officials as provisional, sectional, national, USTA, and professional. ( Id. ¶ 12). Provisional umpires must pass a written test and meet visual acuity requirements. (Id.). An umpire may obtain subsequent USTA certification levels by officiating a certain number of matches and taking additional classes or certification tests. (Id.). Other tennis organizations have similar certifications. For example, the International Tennis Federation awards white, bronze, silver, and gold "badges" to officials who attend special training sessions and take the written examinations it offers. (Id.).

USTA-certified and international non-USTA-certified umpires who are recommended by their national organizations are eligible to officiate the U.S. Open. ( Id. ¶¶ 41-42; Pls' 56.1 ¶ 105). A U.S. Open selection committee reviews all applicants and identifies the most qualified umpires by examining their applications, certification levels, officiating experience, and performance at various tournaments throughout the year. (Def.'s 56.1 ¶ 43). The committee then sends acceptance and rejection letters to officials notifying them of its decision. (Id.). An individual selected to officiate at the U.S. Open may accept or decline this offer. ( Id. ¶ 44). If the individual chooses to accept, he or she must sign the "Official's Code of Conduct, " which must be observed throughout the year. (Pls.' 56.1 ¶ 128). Among other things, the Code of Conduct prohibits socializing or becoming intimate with players; speaking to the media without permission; gambling on any tennis event; and conversing with spectators while on the court. ( Id. ¶ 129).

USTA assigns umpires who accept their offer to officiate at specific matches at the U.S. Open. (Def.'s 56.1 ¶ 55). Assignments are made based on a variety of factors, including the official's badge or certification level and overall performance during the tournament. (Id.). To preserve the independence of officials, the USTA also ensures that chair umpires are not assigned to officiate matches involving a player of the same nationality, or where there is a history of disputes between the official and the player. ( Id. ¶ 56).

USTA evaluates umpires at the U.S. Open as well as at tennis events hosted by other organizations. (Pls.' 56.1 ¶ 132). These evaluations guide the USTA's decision to retain an umpire and to assign him or her to particular matches. ( Id. ¶¶ 133-34). If the evaluations reveal a performance deficiency, the umpire may not be selected to officiate additional matches. ( Id. ¶ 136). When a line umpire is evaluated, the evaluator examines the umpire's stance, walk, voice clarity, speed of decision, clarity of hand signals, etcetera. ( Id. ¶ 139). Chair umpires are also evaluated, ( Id. ¶ 141).

In their applications, umpires identify the days or weeks they are available to officiate matches. (Def.'s 56.1 ¶ 37). An umpire may limit his or her availability for personal or professional reasons. ( Id. ¶ 39). The total number of days or matches that an umpire works depends on his or her availability and the needs of the U.S. Open. ( Id. ¶ 57). Nevertheless, umpires are required to travel to New York the day before the U.S. Open begins, and may only leave after their assignment period ends. (Pls.' 56.1 ¶ 120). The number of hours an umpire spends on the court on any given day also varies. (Def.'s 56.1 ¶ 58). Umpires arrive at the National Tennis Center at their assigned check-in time, as early as 10 a.m., on days they are officiating, as required by Defendant; their departure time varies. ( Id. ¶¶ 59-60). Typically, they spend approximately ten to eleven hours working at the U.S. Open each day, including travel time, early arrival, downtime, and meal breaks. ( Id. ¶ 60). Line umpires may leave the facility during their "off" times; chair umpires are generally required to remain close to the umpire's lounge so they can be located when they are needed. (Def.'s Resp. to Pl.'s 56.1 ¶¶ 111, 113).

Umpires selected to officiate the U.S. Open sign independent contractor agreements with the USTA for each year they officiate. (Def.'s 56.1 ¶ 61). Each umpire is paid a fixed daily rate, between $115 and $200 per day, based upon his or her certification level. ( Id. ¶¶ 62-63). For days they do not work at the U.S. Open, the USTA pays umpires $40 per day. ( Id. ¶ 62). The USTA also pays some travel, meal, and equipment costs for umpires - a stipend for airfare, hotel expenses at a designated hotel for a shared room, a nominal meal credit at the National Tennis Center, and cost of uniforms. ( Id. ¶ 64). Umpires could, of course, pay to upgrade their travel, lodging, and meal arrangements. ( Id. ¶ 65). Umpires also pay for other equipment necessary to their work as umpires, such as eyewear, sunblock, ...

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