In a closely-watched case, a federal district court last week threw out claims by three wrestlers that they were employees, rather than independent contractors of the World Wrestling Entertainment, Inc. (WWE) in a thorough repudiation of their claims.
The decision in Levy v. WWE (download here) is based, in part on the language of the wrestlers’ contracts (which can be found here). I’ve discussed this case extensively in a variety of posts here.
If there were any doubt that the WWE is entertainment, not a sport, the court readily dismisses that at the outset:
Though wrestling is a sport in which two combatants engage in efforts to throw each other, as presented by defendant it is not a competitive engagement but is a staged pseudo-match, scripted, choreographed by agents of defendant and executed by wrestlers assigned by defendant which directs and controls the wrestlers’ conduct and the outcome.
Alas, the rest of the decision is not nearly as theatrical as a WWE match. Indeed, it is more akin to the Olympic-style wrestling matches you might see — methodical with only flashes of action.
The court dismisses the claim that WWE breached the wrestlers’ contracts by not doing tax withholdings (assuming they were employees) because the court finds that the wrestlers weren’t harmed by that action. Indeed, the court also finds that the claim that the wrestlers were deprived of benefits connected to the withholdings to be "fabricated":
The allegation of a deprivation of benefits "paid for by such withholding" is fabricated of whole cloth as withholding is subtracted from an employee’s compensation and paid to the government for application to an employee’s tax liability. It accrues no added earnings which plaintiffs make no claim were not paid in full to them. No particular benefits are claimed to have been lost.
As to the unjust enrichment claim, the court dismisses that claim because there is an express contract (namely the booking contracts) that prevents such claims from being raised. The court also finds that the statute of limitations on many of the wrestlers’ claims also applies.
The wrestlers can move to have to decision reconsidered or can take an appeal. However, given the court’s thorough dismissal of their claims, it’s difficult to see that they have any real good options left.