Redskins found by arbitrator to owe back pay to their ticket agents

By Dan Steinberg
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, March 24, 2010

A private arbitrator ruled this week that Redskins ticket office employees are subject to federal overtime laws, clearing the way for 11 current and former sales agents to attempt to recoup back pay from the franchise. A private hearing on the case is scheduled for April 6.

Several Redskins sales agents filed a lawsuit against the team in 2008, and the franchise contested the suit in a private arbitration process, arguing that the employees weren't subject to overtime regulations because of a federal exemption for amusement and recreation workers.

Arbitrator Brian S. Harvey sided with the plaintiffs in his decision on Monday, describing them as "functionally [aligned] with the ongoing administration of the business of the overall Redskins enterprise" and thus subject to overtime regulations.

Harvey noted that the ticket sales employees spend "significant time" in collection activities, calling ticket holders, urging them to make contractually required payments and working out payment plans -- tasks related not to football games themselves but to the team's overall business.

After a U.S. District Court in Louisiana ruled in 2008 that New Orleans Hornets employees were not exempt from overtime rules, Redskins ticket agents were switched from salaries to hourly wages with overtime. But the team declined to pay the employees for past overtime hours after the switch, prompting the lawsuit.

"Up until now it's been a question of whether these employees have been entitled to overtime," said Rockville attorney James Rubin, who is representing the agents. "That question has been put to bed. The trial now is no longer about whether they're owed; it's about how much they're owed."

Rubin said he plans to call approximately 20 witnesses, including Redskins COO and General Counsel David Donovan and Chief Marketing Officer Mitch Gershman.

Not exempting ticket sellers from overtime rules "is a legal development that could impact many sports franchises," Donovan said in a statement, "but the Redskins have already implemented the changes that have been newly-defined by the courts."Donovan said: "We will immediately begin discussions with the plaintiffs' representatives to bring this issue to a close."

The sides disagree on whether the new pay structure accounts for commissions in calculating overtime rates. Rubin has also alleged that some of his clients were terminated by the team in retaliation for the suit, which the Redskins have denied. Rubin said one of the retaliation claims has already been settled.

The original claim requested more than $185,000 in back overtime pay, unpaid commissions, penalties, attorneys fees and interest.

Redskins note: The team signed punter Josh Bidwell, who has played for Tampa Bay and Green Bay. Bidwell, 34, was a Pro Bowler in 2005, when he averaged 45.6 yards per punt with a 37.5 net average with the Bucs. He missed all of last season because of a hip injury. Punter Hunter Smith wasn't exactly surprised that the Redskins planned to sign Bidwell, who played under General Manager Bruce Allen in Tampa Bay. And Smith hasn't ruled out returning to the Redskins, a person familiar with the situation said. Although Smith apparently is not opposed to competing with Bidwell, he is exploring his options. It would seem that Smith still has enough ability to start, and there are several teams without veteran punters, including Denver, Green Bay and New England. Expect interest in Smith to increase closer to training camp.

Staff writer Jason Reid contributed to this report.

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