September 12, 2014 / 4:24 PM / 3 years ago

U.S. Open tennis umpires' pay lawsuit against USTA is ruled out

Tennis fans watch amid empty seats as U.S. Marines unfurl a large U.S. flag during ceremonies ahead of the men's singles final match between Kei Nishikori of Japan and Marin Cilic of Croatia at the 2014 U.S. Open tennis tournament in New York, September 8, 2014. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A federal judge has thrown out a class-action lawsuit accusing the United States Tennis Association of underpaying the hundreds of umpires who work the U.S. Open each year.

In a decision made public on Friday, U.S. District Judge Andrew Carter in Manhattan agreed with the USTA that the umpires were independent contractors rather than employees, and not entitled to overtime despite regularly working more than 40 hours a week during the two-week tournament.

Carter pointed to the umpires’ “high degree of control” over their work, including the ability to set their schedules, and their “immense discretion” on the court, including to suspend play or discipline players. He also said the umpires generally claimed independent contractor status on their tax returns.

“Even though the umpires’ integral role in the U.S. Open weighs toward a finding of an employer-employee relationship, the totality of the circumstances suggest otherwise,” Carter wrote. “Plaintiffs were simply temporary workers.”

The umpires had brought claims under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act and New York state labor law.

Judith Spanier, a lawyer for the umpires, declined to comment on the decision. USTA spokesman Chris Widmaier said the organization is pleased with the decision.

Carter had last year certified a class of hundreds of umpires who had worked the U.S. Open, starting in 2005.

The USTA paid umpires $115 to $200 per day, depending on their certifications, plus stipends for airfares, shared hotel rooms and food at the National Tennis Center, court papers show.

Umpires would often be expected to arrive at 10 a.m., and stay at the tennis center until well into the evenings, the papers show.

The lawsuit was filed during the 2011 U.S. Open. Carter’s decision is dated Sept. 11, less than a week after the 2014 tournament ended.

The case is Meyer et al v. United States Tennis Association, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, No. 11-06268.

Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by Dan Grebler, Bernard Orr

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