Former Wallabies star Israel Folau officially filed a lawsuit against Rugby Australia on Thursday after his contract was torn up over controversial social media posts.
Folau was found to have committed a high-level breach of Rugby Australia’s code of conduct after posting homophobic comments on social media last month, with a three-person panel recommending that his four-year, $4-million contract be torn up in May.
However, Folau’s lawyers confirmed they have filed an application at the Australian Fair Work Commission, and are seeking a declaration that his employment was unfairly terminated. His legal representatives said that under Section 772 of the Fair Work Act it was unlawful to terminate employment on the basis of religion.
It has also been reported that Folau is seeking $10-million in damages, which is inclusive of his four-year contract with Rugby Australia.
‘Ours is an amazing country built on important principles, including freedom of religion,’ Folau said in a statement.
‘A nation made up of so many different faiths and cultural backgrounds will never be truly rich unless this freedom applies to all of us.
‘The messages of support we have received over these difficult few weeks have made me realise there are so many Australians who feel their fundamental rights are being steadily eroded.
‘No Australians of any faith should be fired for practising their religion.’
Rugby Australia has responded by defending their right to terminate his contract over a breach of the professional players’ code of conduct.
‘This is an issue of an employee and his obligations to his employers within the contract that he signed,’ RA said in a statement. ‘He was bound to 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.
‘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.
‘It is important to make clear that Rugby Australia and NSW Rugby did not choose to be in a position where they are forced to divert significant resources to defend the ongoing legal action taken by Israel, but his action leaves the game with no choice.
‘As a sport that is proud of the values of inclusion, passion, integrity, discipline, respect and teamwork that underpin our game globally and our code of conduct, we will defend those values and the right for all people to feel safe and welcome in our game regardless of their gender, race, background, religion or sexuality.
‘We are grateful for the support from so many people from within our rugby community, including the volunteers who are the guardians of the game’s values, from other sports and from the wider community here and around the world, who have supported our stance.
‘We will remain focused on getting on with the job of building our game, supporting our teams, encouraging more people to play rugby and upholding the values that generations of Wallabies and Waratahs have represented with pride.’
Photo: EPA/Bianca de Marchi