California court throws out caddie lawsuit against PGA Tour

(Scott Halleran/Getty Images)

PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. – Caddies lost their class-action lawsuit against the PGA Tour when a federal judge in California ruled they signed a contract with the tour that requires them to wear bibs as part of their uniform and cannot claim that corporate sponsorship on the bibs makes them human billboards.

U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria dismissed the lawsuit Tuesday night without prejudice, which typically means it cannot be refiled.

The decision came just over a year after caddies filed the lawsuit in northern California, the same federal court where former UCLA basketball star Ed O’Bannon successfully sued the NCAA for keeping college players from selling their marketing rights.

The lawsuit began with 81 caddies and had grown to 168 caddies.

Chhabria dismissed all seven of the contractual claims.

The caddies and the tour had been odds for the last several years over what they perceive as poor treatment. They are not allowed in clubhouses and at some tournaments are not allowed in the locker room.

At the heart of the lawsuit was a claim that the tour was using them as “human billboards” because the bibs they wore on the course, which featured the logo of the title sponsor, amounted to advertising to which they received no compensation. Lawyers for the caddies estimated the value of the advertising at $50 million a year.

Chhabria suggested in his ruling that the caddies’ own complaint worked against them.

The contract a caddie signs to work a PGA Tour event says that caddies are to wear uniforms and identification badges prescribed by the tournament and the tour. Chhabria said the caddies in their brief acknowledge that “the PGA Tour has required caddies to wear bibs for decades.”

“In other words, for decades, the bib has been the primary part of the ‘uniform’ that the Tour requires caddies to wear,” Chhabria wrote. “The only reasonable interpretation of the contract is that the caddies agreed the Tour could make them wear bibs.”

Chhabria also found no merit to claims of antitrust and trademark law, along with complaints of publicity rights and that contracts were signed under duress.

“The caddies overall complaint about poor treatment by the Tour has merit, but this federal lawsuit about bibs does not,” Chhabria said.

The PGA Tour said in a statement it was pleased by the decision.

“We look forward to putting this matter behind us and moving forward in a positive direction with the caddies,” the statement said.

Lawyers for the caddies were preparing a comment. One option would be to appeal the ruling.