SAN FRANCISCO — A federal judge in San Francisco has turned away a lawsuit brought by professional golf caddies who complained that the PGA Tour unlawfully required them to act as walking billboards during tournaments.
A group of caddies filed the proposed class action last February claiming that the tour violated federal antitrust laws by requiring them to wear bibs covered with advertiser logos. The case came amid growing strife between the PGA Tour and the caddies, who are hired by individual touring pros.
In a 15-page order filed Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria pointed in particular to a 2015 tournament when players were allowed to wait out a thunderstorm indoors while caddies were forced to seek shelter in an “open metal shed or in their vehicles.”
“The caddies’ overall complaint about poor treatment by the tour has merit, but this federal lawsuit about bibs does not,” the judge wrote.
According to the suit, caddies are not compensated for wearing the bibs, which bring in about $50 million a year.
Chhabria wrote that the caddies conceded in their complaint that they’ve been required to wear bibs “for decades” and that the contracts they sign at each tournament include a requirement that they wear an approved uniform. He also found that the caddies hadn’t established that the forum for advertising during the action of sporting events is a “relevant market” distinct from other types of advertisement for antitrust purposes.
“To implicate the antitrust laws, the caddies must allege facts from which one could plausibly conclude that these different methods of advertising to golf fans are not reasonably interchangeable, such that even if the price of one advertising method went up in a meaningful way, companies would not switch to another method of advertising,” Chhabria wrote. “The caddies have alleged no such facts.”
One of the caddies’ lawyers, Richard Meadow with The Lanier Law Firm, said that he was reviewing the decision but was heartened by Chhabria’s comments about the caddies’ treatment. He said that he hopes the tour “will take note of the judge’s comments there, which I think [were] very telling.”
PGA Tour spokesman Chris Smith said in an emailed statement that the tour was pleased by the decision. “We look forward to putting this matter behind us and moving forward in a positive direction with the caddies,” he wrote.
The PGA Tour was represented by Jeffrey Mishkin, Anthony Dreyer and Raoul Kennedy at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom.
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