Rugby, religion and a $10 million dollar lawsuit

Rugby, religion and a $10 million dollar lawsuit June 7, 2019
Image via YouTube

SACKED Australian rugby player Israel Folau is seeking up to $10 million in damages, claiming that he had been punished by Rugby Australia for his religious beliefs.

Folau has engaged eminent lawyer Stuart Wood QC, an industrial relations expert and the head of employment law at Macpherson Kelley, George Haros, who has represented Australian basketballer Liz Cambage in employment matters.

Excerpts of court documents say that Folau will seek a declaration that his employment was unlawfully terminated because of his religion and that he will make a compensation/damages claim.

It’s alleged that the termination has cost  Folau the best years of his rugby career, participation at the Rugby World Cup, the chance to become the greatest Wallaby try-scorer (a decades-old record he was likely to break), and the associated exposure and opportunities.

As well as around $5 million in lost salary, Folau will claim a sum in respect of the loss of these opportunities (renewal of contract, sponsorships, etc). The damages will be particularised in due course, but will be substantial. In addition, Folau will seek civil penalties.

A statement released by Folau’s team said he would challenge his sacking under section 772 of the Fair Work Act, which prohibits an individual’s employment being terminated on the basis of religion. If the parties cannot reach a resolution in the Commission, his claim may go to the Federal Court.

The message at the heart of the controversy is still on Folau’s Instagram account. Image via YouTube.

The 73-Test Wallaby’s four-year contract was torn up on May 20 after a three-person independent panel found his April 10 Instagram post – proclaiming homosexuals, among other groups, would go to hell – amounted to a high-level breach of the code of conduct.

RA said in a statement the issue was about an employee refusing to honour the contract 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 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.

The issue is set to suck up the attention and budget of Rugby Australia for at least 12 months, potentially overshadowing a World Cup campaign. It is reportedly a battle without precedent in Australian sport.

In an earlier statement, Folau said he felt his treatment by RA and the Waratahs had left him no choice but to stand up for his beliefs.

I will forever be grateful and proud to have played the sport I love for our nation. Ours is an amazing country built on important principles, including freedom of religion. 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 many Australians who feel their fundamental rights are being steadily eroded. No Australian of any faith should be fired for practising their religion.

Meanwhile, in another “religious freedom” case, a florist who refused to provide flowers for a gay couple’s wedding in 2013 has lost her appeal against a court ruling that said she violated Washington’s anti-discrimination laws.

The Washington State Supreme Court yesterday unanimously upheld its previous ruling that Baronelle Stutzman, above, was in violation the state’s laws regarding discrimination.

Attorney General Bob Ferguson said:

Washington state law protects same-sex couples from discrimination based on their sexual orientation, the same way it protects Washingtonians from discrimination based on their religion, veteran or military status, disability, race and other protected classes. I will continue to uphold these laws and fight to protect Washingtonians from discrimination.

The case was appealed to the US Supreme Court, but following a ruling in a similar case of a Colorado baker, Jack Phillips, the High Court tossed the decision out and told the Washington Court to review it and make sure they did not rule with any religious bias.

Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys representing Stutzman, of Arlene’s Flowers in Richland, will ask the US Supreme Court to take her case after the Washington Supreme Court ruled against her Thursday.

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  • Kit Hadley-Day

    this twit is not being punished for his beliefs, he is being punished for making a public statement that breached a code of conduct that he has signed up to. If his religion is more important to him than his job he should not have signed the contract in the first place, he is the only one responsible for the mess he is in, and yet for some reason wants other people to pay for it. Honestly how hard is it to understand.

  • Ann Kah

    It’s pretty clear. He can think whatever he likes. But when that manifests itself in words or actions that are hurtful and disrespectful to others, he has no defense. If I recall, he was given a warning that he had stepped over the guidelines, but chose not to stop. Public figures have certain restrictions placed on their behavior by those who pay their salaries.

    Oh, how I wish I could say the same about Donald Trump…

  • Michael Neville

    Folau thinks his religion allows him to loudly proclaim his bigotry.

  • Martin Penwald

    those who pay their salaries.

    Their obscene salaries.

  • Wisdom, Justice, Love

    That’s one of the things that gets me.

    Sports money is more important than my religious beliefs. He would have to prove that his insensitive public proclamations were part of a religious ceremony/sacrament. But being a obnoxious clown on the (cyber) street that violates the rules of a (private enterprise?) sports league you agreed to uphold (read that contract again, or get someone to read it to you) is not an infringement on your religion.

    If Kim Davis’ beliefs are so strong, the ethical thing to do would be to quit the job FORCING you to compromise them. Nope. I want my personal beliefs AND a government paycheck.

    My religion doesn’t hold me accountable, so it’s oppression when society tells me there are consequences to my actions.

  • Freethinker

    Not expecting a double digit IQ meathead barely capable of stringing together a sentence to understand the meaning of ‘hypocrisy’ but still….

  • persephone

    Yeah, they always seem to forget all the other verses, except that one.

  • rubaxter

    This from a witless jerk whose only talent it to viciously assault and batter other people in the name of a violent, senseless children’s game.

    Hope he loses, and loses even more when he has to pay costs.

  • al kimeea

    specially the ones covered in crosses of irony…

  • Michael Bean

    So he belongs to the Church of Homophobic Bigotry and Holy Than Thou Finger Pointing for Jeezuz?

  • Richard B

    Not OK.

  • HFR

    At the last census in Australia, over 7 million people stated NO RELIGION on their census. Folau has abused over seven million Australian atheists. It’s not the first time Folau has been told not to abuse people. But this was the last time he abused someone as an Australian rugby player! This has nothing to with his indoctrinated superstitions, it’s about his continued abuses of people he does not even know and has never even met!

  • Rosalind Dalefield

    Something that is missing from this article is that Folau had made a homophobic comment, based on his religious beliefs, on social media before. At that time there was an outcry and he was told not to do it again. He went ahead and did it again. He can’t pretend he didn’t know his employers would object.

  • TommYYman

    I think its his right to free speech that allows him to do that.

  • TommYYman

    You hear that Colin Kapernick?

  • Ann Kah

    So are we now to conclude that KNEELING is disrespectful? Hypocrisy, thy name is religion.

  • TommYYman

    In the context that he did, many thought so.

  • Ignorant Amos

    Except that “right to free speech” isn’t an automatic right in Australia.

    And the eejit wasn’t just asserting any right to free speech, he could well be breaking the “hate speech laws” in Australia.