Caddies welcome end of lawsuit, but the victory belongs to Jay Monahan and the PGA Tour
On Thursday, the Association of Professional Tour Caddies announced the class-action lawsuit that caddies originally filed against the PGA Tour in 2015 has ended. The crux of the case involved caddies complaining that they were forced to wear bibs displaying tournament sponsors without receiving compensation, along with the threat of expulsion from working on tour if failing to comply. Loopers were hoping for a cut of the endorsements, or the opportunity to wear bibs with their own sponsorship. In addition, healthcare plans were also part of the suit.
Why the case finally ended, however, depends on who you ask.
On the caddie-run website Caddie Network, Scott Sajtinac, president of the APTC (the association was not part of the original filing) claimed the caddies have dropped the suit after the tour recently agreed to increase the yearly healthcare stipend. Sajtinac noted that some caddies have incurred health-care costs in excess of $25,000 for coverage for themselves and family. “That’s a huge chunk of change,” Sajtinac said. “And it’s not like having coverage means you don’t keep paying. Most plans for individuals mean you’re still on the hook for 20 percent of costs, after a deductible, if you claim anything. This was crushing some caddie families out on tour."
The PGA Tour, however, asserts the increase in the stipend and the lawsuit's end are two different matters.
"Regarding the lawsuit, which the PGA Tour won in District Court and which victory was upheld on appeal, we are pleased that this matter has concluded and look forward to moving on," the tour told Golf Digest. "Separate and apart from the lawsuit, the tour had been reviewing a potential increase to the longtime caddie health-care subsidy, and we know the caddies are appreciative of the decision to do so. Although these two items have been reported together, they are not connected. The PGA Tour looks forward to continuing to support the caddies in the important role they play in the success of our members."
In 2016, a California court dismissed the lawsuit, a decision upheld by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in August. While the Ninth Circuit's three-judge panel did remand to the district court its decision to not allow the caddies to amend their federal antitrust claims—giving caddies a route to continue to pursue their grievances if they wish—law professors told Golf Digest the caddies petition was on "life support."
One thing that can be agreed upon: The increase in the healthcare stipend is a direct result of the tour's new leadership.
“With Commissioner Jay Monahan now at the helm, within weeks of his tenure starting, healthy dialogue began,” Sajtinac said. “The caddies and the tour were finally talking. And Jay was fantastic through this whole process. He truly wanted to understand what it was we were dealing with. So, we got to work. Over the course of the next year or so we, and the PGA Tour’s Andy Pazder, along with Commissioner Monahan, got to work and hashed out a solution. A plan that will be implemented—as early as January 2019, I believe—that will indeed help offset these rising health-insurance costs. When I became president of the APTC, I told the guys, ‘it’s my goal to come to a resolution on this.’ I didn’t want to be president and have this hanging over us. I told the board I was going to reach out to the tour again and see if we can’t find a solution. So far, it’s been great.”
Sajtinac's words were backed up by a handful of caddies who talked to Golf Digest. What Sajtinac left unsaid, however, was the ill-will created by former commissioner Tim Finchem. Two caddies told Golf Digest that not only did Finchem want no part of their plight, but that he tried to turn caddies against their own players.
“The historical process is the player handles [caddie compensation] and they are employees of the player,” Finchem said in 2015. “We think that’s been a good system. The extent to which this lawsuit challenges that system, for whatever reasons they have in the lawsuit from a legal standpoint, it is what it is, but we would like to continue that system and let it go on. We just have to see what happens with this litigation.”
Three caddies told Golf Digest that Monahan, in their estimation, recognized the bridge needed to be rebuilt.
"The hypocrisy was what killed me," one caddie, part of the original lawsuit, told Golf Digest. "Finchem would bang the drum on the tour's philanthropy, and here we are relying on government programs to get by. Jay wants to make sure we are taken care of."
Perhaps. A sports law professor, speaking to Golf Digest on request of anonymity, painted the tour's stipend increase in a different light.
"Ninety-nine percent of the time, management makes a business decision for business, not for charity," said the law professor. "Make that 99.9 percent in a case when management is getting sued. I don't want to trample on what [the tour did], and this is a good thing for caddies. But the argument could be made the perception of treating caddies right is what is good for business."
The law professor said the prospect of a Pyrrhic victory, be it in PR hit or resources, could have been part of the tour's decision as well. Nevertheless, the professor did say the issue being put to rest should be viewed as a big win for Monahan.
"He has created the recognition that he has all interests at heart," the law professor said. "I'm not going to read into or comment on the intentions behind that. But as a leader, that impression, you could say buy-in, is beyond important to be effective in your role."
How the conversation continues remains to be seen. But most parties agree the relationship between the tour and caddies has never been stronger. A rapport Monahan and his staff can hang their hats on.