Judge Blows the Whistle on Soccer Ref’s Lawsuit

     CHICAGO (CN) – A federal judge threw out an age-discrimination suit brought by a United States Soccer Federation referee, reasoning that federal law does not protect referees as employees.

     Marcel Yonan, a referee and lawyer, claimed he was “first registered with the Federation in 1982 or 1983 and rose to the rank of ‘national referee’ in 1992, which then allowed him to work professional games.” In early 2007, was told he would no longer be assigned to referee Major League Soccer games.
     The federation is the governing body for all American soccer and provides referees to officiate in international, professional and youth games around the country. Yonan claimed it enforces a variety of rules and requirements on referees, thereby rendering referees “employees.”
     For example, referees “who want to officiate Federation-affiliated games must register with the Federation each year and pay a registration fee,” according to the complaint. Also
     Several physical and mental tests also serve as the basis for a grading certification for referees depending on their ability and experience, Yonan claimed. Furthermore, federation-registered “referees are free to accept or decline the Federation’s assignments for any reason,” Yonan said.
     The Northern District of Illinois focused on a five-factor “economic realities test” to determine whether Yonan worked for the federation as an employee or an independent contractor. Under the latter, he would be ineligible for protection under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act.
     The factors analyzed under this test include “the extent of the employer’s control and supervision over the worker,” “the kind of occupation and nature of skill required,” and the “length of job commitment and/or expectations.”
     Because Yonan could turn down assignments at any time, his “relationship with the Federation, as the assignor of matches, is similar to the relationship between limousine drivers and their dispatcher,” U.S. District Judge Virginia Kendall wrote for the court
     An employer’s right to control is the most significant factor in this test, thus dooming Yonan’s claim. Kendall reasoned that “the Federation did not supervise Yonan,” though it evaluated his performance.
     “There is no question that parties retaining independent contractors may judge the performance of those contractors to determine if the contractual relationship should continue,” Kendall wrote.
     She added that Yonan’s own complaint negated his bid for “employee” status.
     Yonan confirmed that his primary income comes from his legal practice, and discovery confirmed that “Yonan has no record of ever receiving an IRS Form W-2 or 1099 from the Federation, and has never listed the Federation as an employer on his tax returns.” Typically, the relevant leagues, not the federation, compensated Yonan, and he could refuse to referee a game at any time.
     The complaint also acknowledges that “[o]n his 2007 registration form, he acknowledged that he understood that registering with the Federation ‘does not create an employment contract or relationship with [the Federation].'”
     According to the ruling, “long term, exclusive relationships are consistent with employer-employee status.”
     Though Yonan had been working for the federation for 25 years, however, his relationship with the federation never reached the level anticipated by the discrimination law.

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