What’s a Judge to a Wizard: An Analysis of the Class Action Lawsuit Between the Judges and the Wizards of the Coast, LLC; Whether a Judge is Really a Sorcerer’s Apprentice, Volunteer, Unpaid Intern, or Actual Employee?

Stephen C. Jimenez

A bunch of judges are suing a bunch of wizards.[1]  Wizards of the Coast, LLC (“Wizards”), is a company that makes multiple card and board games, one of which is called Magic:  The Gathering (“Magic”).[2]  Magic is “a completely modular card game, where instead of buying one set or box, each player . . . collect[s] and curate[s] his or her cards of differing rarity into a personalized deck to face off against their opponent.”[3]  There are multiple nation and worldwide competitions where players compete to win cash prizes and become recognized as the best Planeswalker.[4]  At these major competitions, there are “judges” that resolve rule disputes between the competing players.[5] Wizards maintains control over most of the bigger competitions where the judges play this role of facilitating games.[6]  Wizards of the Coast, however, has no real protocol for paying these judges, and thus a group of judges filed a class action lawsuit in the United States District Court for the Northern District of California, asserting state and federal claims for, among other things, unpaid wages.[7]  In their public response to the suit, Wizards characterized the judges as volunteers.[8]  The court will likely look to the amount of control that Wizards exerts over the judges to determine whether they are employees of Wizards when it comes to the judges’ state-based claims under California law, as this is the current analysis in California.[9]

[1].             Class Action Complaint & Demand for Jury Trial, Shaw v. Wizards of the Coast, LLC, 2016 WL 1593819 (N.D. Cal. April 12, 2016) (No. 3:16-cv-01924-LB).
[2].             Wizards of the Coast, Wizards Responds to LawsuitsWizards.com (Apr. 20, 2016) http://magic.wizards.com/en/articles/archive/news/wizards-responds-lawsuits-2016-04-20 (“Wizards of the Coast LLC, [is] a subsidiary of Hasbro, Inc. . . . . [Wizards] brings to market a range of gaming experiences under powerful brand names such as MAGIC:  THE GATHERING, DUNGEONS & DRAGONS, and DUEL MASTERS.”).
[3].             Titus Chalk, 20 Years of Magic:  The Gathering, a Game that Changed the WorldSabotage Times (July 30, 2013), http://sabotagetimes.com/life/20-years-of-magic-the-gathering-a-game-that-changed-the-world; Magic Is LoreWizards.com, http://magic.wizards.com/en/content/new-to-magic/lore (“At the heart of Magic’s many stories are the Planeswalkers—powerful mages with the ability to travel between worlds. . . . As a player, you are one such Planeswalker. . . .”).
[4].             Chalk, supra note 3 (“[Wizards] launched Magic’s very own ‘Pro Tour’—an event that would reward the winner of an annual tournament series with tens of thousands of dollars, adding up to millions of dollars in prizes each year.”).
[5].             Mark Brown, Become a Magic JudgeMagic Judge, http://blogs.magicjudges.org/o/become-a-magic-judge/ (last visited July 3, 2016) (“Judges are neutral arbiters of the game . . . . If you are already the player that everyone asks [rules] questions then you’re acting the way most judges do . . . .”).
[6].             Wizards of the Coast, supra note 2 (Wizards maintains direct control over “the Pro Tour, the World Magic Cup, and the Magic World Championship . . . .”).
[7].             Class Action Complaint & Demand for Jury Trial, Shaw v. Wizards of the Coast, LLC, 2016 WL 1593819 (N.D. Cal. April 12, 2016) (No. 3:16-cv-01924-LB)
Plaintiffs and the putative class hereby seek compensation for unpaid minimum and overtime wages, missed meal and rest breaks, failure to timely pay wages, failure to furnish timely and accurate wage statements, failure to maintain accurate payroll records, unreimbursed business expenses, for interest and penalties thereon, and for reasonable attorneys' fees and costs pursuant to the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, 29 U.S.C. § 201, et seq., Cal. Labor Code §§ 218.5, 226, 1194, 2699, 2802 . . . .
Id. at 2.
[8].             Wizards of the Coast, supra note 2 (“Fans choose to become judges out of a sincere love of the game and as a way to enjoy their favorite hobby.”).
[9].             Cal. Code Regs. tit. 8, § 11040 (2002); See Martinez v. Combs, 231 P.3d 259, 278, 282 (Cal. 2010); see also Benjamin v. B & H Educ., Inc., No. 13-cv-04993-VC, slip op. at 2 (N.D. Cal. filed Oct. 16, 2015).

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