Court Finds Club’s Failure To Treat Caddies As Employees May Trigger Liability Under Law

By: Rob Harris

Robert Lee Wiggins, a caddy at New York’s Garden City Golf Club, was more than displeased when, several months ago, he awoke from a nap to discover that the caddy master had photographed an disseminated on Facebook a picture of the sleeping Wigging with a penis or sex toy next to his face.

Perhaps a coincidence, but I suspect not: Mr. Wiggins is the plaintiff in a class action suit filed against the golf club last year. Instead, in its fifteen pages, the complaint asserts four counts arising out of the club’s alleged failure to follow statutory requirements designed to ensure that employees are paid minimum wage and receive overtime.

Mr. Wiggins alleged that the club classifies golf caddies “as neither employees nor independent contractors, and as a result have been deprived of basic rights guaranteed under Federal, State and Local Laws.”

He has alleged that 25 to 70 caddies work more than forty hours a week.

In late October, the court denied the club’s attempt to dismiss the law suit. Drawing on the allegations in the complaint, the court assumed the following facts:

“Plaintiff began his employment with the Garden City GC in 1997 as a golf caddy and worked exclusively for Defendant in that capacity for eighteen years. (Am. Compl. ¶ 16.) As a golf caddy, Plaintiff was responsible for carrying golf clubs, finding and retrieving golf balls and identifying players’ balls on the golf course. (Id. ¶ 17.)

“Defendant’s golf course is open six days a week from 7:30 a.m. to closing time, which varies depending on certain factors, such as available light, weather conditions and the number of golfers playing the course at dusk. (Id. ¶ 20.) Golf caddies report to work at the Defendant’s clubhouse (the “Caddy Hut”) to wait for the Caddy Master, George Ouellette (“Oullette”), to assign them to assist a specific golfer or golfers in a group for a round of golf, which typically consists of eighteen holes of play. (Id. ¶¶ 18, 21.) Both before and after a round of golf, while waiting for a new assignment, Ouellette assigns the caddies miscellaneous tasks, such as transporting golf bags from members’ cars to the clubhouse or moving caddy carts around the premises as necessary to accommodate the members. (Id. ¶ 24.)

“Golf caddies typically work one or two rounds per day, with each round typically lasting up to four and one-half hours. (Id. ¶¶ 22-23.) During each round, a caddy may carry either one or two golf bags. (Id. ¶ 21.) After finishing a round of golf, a caddy will typically clean a member’s golf clubs and then return to the Caddy Hut to wait for a new assignment. (Id. ¶ 23.) A single round of golf, including the cleaning of clubs and performing miscellaneous tasks while waiting for a new assignment, generally takes up to five hours. (Id. ¶ 25.)

“On days when a caddy works two rounds of golf, he or she may work up to eleven hours. (Id. ¶ 26.) Plaintiff estimates that he worked two rounds per day at least three times per week. (Id.) Throughout the golf season, the Garden City GC hosts numerous tournaments, often lasting for three days. (Id. ¶ 33.) On tournament days, the caddies’ hours often exceed ten hours per day, typically consisting of two rounds of golf. (Id.)

“Defendant requires its caddies to wear a specific uniform while working, which consists of beige khakis, a white collared shirt, white sneakers and a beige hat. (Id. ¶ 29.) The hat and shirt that caddies wear must display the Garden City GC logo and must be purchased directly from Defendant. (Id. ¶ 30.)

“Defendant provides its members with guidelines regarding how much to pay caddies for a round of golf. (Id. ¶ 32.) The pay scale is currently $80.00 per bag plus a discretionary gratuity of up to $20.00 per round. (Id.) Defendant does not pay the golf caddies any wages for the hours they work; rather, all compensation is provided by the golf club members. (Id.)”

Based on these alleged facts, the court concluded that the plaintiff has alleged the requisite facts and elements to support the claimed violations of the statutory protections afforded employees.

Keep an eye on this case for what it may mean for caddy programs throughout the country.

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