Rugby star Israel Folau has launched legal action against Rugby Australia.
The organization dropped the rugby star last month for breach of contract. Folau, 30, a devout Christian, posted an image to social media in April that said ‘hell awaits homosexuals’. He refused to apologize for the statement, saying he was merely voicing his Christian beliefs.
In the ensuing controversy, Folau lost sponsorship deals. He was also dropped by his Super Rugby team, New South Wales Waratahs, and governing body, Rugby Australia. He had a lucrative four-year contract with the latter worth Aus$1.0 million ($700,000) annually.
Today, lawyers for Folau said the player had lodged a complaint with Australia’s Fair Work Commission.
‘The applications were filed against both Rugby Australia Ltd. and Waratahs Rugby Pty Ltd. confirming the rugby star’s intent to seek a declaration that his employment was unlawfully terminated because of his religion,’ said lawyers in a statement.
‘Under section 772 of the Fair Work Act it is unlawful to terminate employment on the basis of religion.’
Folau blames sacking on his religion
‘No Australian of any faith should be fired for practicing their religion,’ said Folau in the statement.
‘The messages of support we have received over these difficult few weeks have made me realise there are many Australians who feel their fundamental rights are being steadily eroded.’
His lawyers also said the player wants substantial damages.
‘The termination of Mr Folau’s employment contract prevented him from playing at the peak of his career and on the cusp of a Rugby World Cup, which would have likely generated even greater exposure and opportunities.
‘Accordingly, Mr Folau is seeking substantial remedies from his former employers.’
Sydney Morning Herald says the player is seeking Aus$10 million – a sum that it speculates could bankrupt Rugby Australia were it to lose the case.
Breach of contract
Rugby Australia issued its own statement in response to Folau’s action. It says Folau clearly breached the code of conduct he signed in their contract.
‘This is an issue of an employee and his obligations to his employers within the contract that he signed. He was bound by a code of conduct for all professional players in Australia that spells out clear guidelines and obligations regarding player behavior, including respectful use of social media.
‘An independent panel, having sat for 22 hours and heard testimony from several witnesses and reviewed over 1000 pages of evidence, determined that Israel’s conduct constituted a high-level breach of the code of conduct and ordered termination of his playing contract.’