Are Student-Athletes Employees? NLRB Alleges Misclassification

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On Thursday, May 18, 2023, the National Labor Relations Board (“NLRB”) issued a complaint (PDF) against the University of Southern California (“USC”), the Pac-12 Conference, and the National Collegiate Athletic Association (“NCAA”), alleging that the three employers have continued misclassifying college athletes in men’s and women’s basketball and football as “student-athletes” rather than employees who are entitled to protections under the National Labor Relations Act (“NLRA”). If the action is successful, it would reclassify the athletes as employees and allow them to consider forming a union.

History of NLRB’s Complaint

In September 2021, NLRB General Counsel Jennifer Abruzzo issued a memorandum outlining her position that student-athletes were “employees” under the NLRA. She alleged that misclassifying college athletes as “student-athletes” and leading them to believe they are not entitled to rights under the NLRA has a “chilling effect” on Section 7 activity (i.e., the right to unionize).

Last February, the National College Players Association, a non-profit advocacy group, filed a charge against USC. They claimed that USC, its athletic conference, and the NCAA all jointly employ USC’s student athletes, and therefore are jointly liable for any alleged labor law violations. Following an investigation of the charge, the NLRB’s regional office in Los Angeles filed the pending complaint.

A hearing will take place on November 7, 2023, in Los Angeles before an administrative law judge of the NLRB.

MNK Law will continue to monitor developments with respect to the status of college athletes as employees. For more information on the NLRB, Section 7, misclassification under the NLRA, please contact us at

This material is provided for informational purposes only. It is not intended to constitute legal advice, nor does it create a client-lawyer relationship between MNK Law and any recipient. Recipients should consult with counsel before taking any actions based on the information contained within this material.