Folau sues for 'substantial' payout from Rugby Australia
Sydney - Sacked Wallabies fullback Israel Folau launched legal action on Thursday
against Rugby Australia's decision to dismiss him over homophobic
social media posts, saying he was seeking "substantial remedies" from
the governing body.
The devout Christian said he was defending freedom of religion by
taking his case to Australia's employment watchdog the Fair Work
"No Australian of any faith should be fired for practising their religion," the 30-year-old said in a statement.
Folau's contract was terminated last month after a Rugby Australia
tribunal found him guilty of a "high-level" code of conduct breach for
posting on social media that "hell awaits" gay people and others he
Folau opted not to appeal against the tribunal ruling, voicing a lack of confidence in Rugby Australia's process.
Instead, he has taken his case to the court system, saying his
treatment left him "no choice but to stand up for his beliefs and the
rights of all Australians".
"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," he said.
Folau's statement revealed the argument his legal team will pursue,
including his assertion that he simply posted a message from the Bible.
The fullback, Super
Rugby's most prolific try scorer, was on a four-year contract worth more
than Aus$1.0 million ($700 000) annually when he was sacked.
"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," his statement said.
"Accordingly, Mr Folau is seeking substantial remedies from his former employers."
The Sydney Morning Herald said Folau would be seeking Aus$10 million,
including lost sponsorship and marketing opportunities, a sum it said
could bankrupt Rugby Australia if they lose the case.
The action, which names both Rugby Australia and his Super Rugby team the Waratahs, claims of breach of contract and unlawful termination
under the Fair Work Act, which protects employees from being sacked
because of their religion.
Folau's post has sparked heated debate in Australia, with some
defending his right to express views he sees as central to his religious
Rugby Australia and NSW Rugby Union defended their decision to axe
Folau on Thursday as a breach of contract issue, with the fullback
failing to abide by commitments he would not disparage people on the
basis of their sexuality.
"He was bound by a Code of Conduct for all professional players in
Australia that spells out clear guidelines and obligations regarding
player behaviour, including respectful use of social media," they said
in a joint statement.
The governing bodies said that an independent panel sat for 22 hours
and reviewed 1 000 pages of evidence to determine "that Israel's conduct
constituted a high-level breach" of the code.
A long-drawn out court battle could prove costly to Rugby Australia,
who have already foreshadowed a financial loss in 2019 - a scenario
that often plays out in a World Cup year when there are fewer home
Meanwhile, the Waratahs revealed Folau's brother John had cut ties with the Sydney-based side.
"John has been in a difficult position for the last wee while," coach
Daryl Gibson said of Folau's younger sibling, a journeyman signing who
has never played for the team.
"He has got really divided loyalties to his family and his brother
and then also to the team. He wanted to stress how much he enjoyed being
with the team and what a difficult decision it was for him."