Rugby AU says it will "defend" its values as Folau launches legal action with Fair Work Commission

Beth Newman Profile
by Beth Newman

UPDATE: Rugby Australia and NSW Rugby say they will continue to "defend" their values after sacked superstar Israel Folau launched legal action against his former employers on Thursday.

Folau filed a Fair Work Commission dispute against his former employers for unfair dismissal as he begins the fight against the termination of his multi-million dollar contract.

Under the Fair Work Act, Folau had 21 days to file a claim, a deadline that was set to expire on Friday, and will sue Rugby Australia and the Waratahs under section 772 of the Fair Work Act, which says:

"An employer must not terminate an employee's employment for one or more of the following reasons, or for reasons including one or more of the following reasons:

"Race, colour, sex, sexual preference, age, physical or mental disability, marital status, family or carer's responsibilities, pregnancy, religion, political opinion, national extraction or social origin."

Israel Folau. Photo: WalmsleyFolau is reportedly seeking as much as $10 million with the suit, an amount that consists of lost salary and extra damages.

Rugby Australia responded to the news late on Thursday evening, saying that they "did not choose to be" in a legal battle that will inevitably be incredibly costly for the game.

“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 statement read.

“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."

The two organisations also reiterated the thoroughness of the Code of Conduct process that Folau faced, in which a three-person panel deemed him guilty of a high-level code breach.

"Rugby Australia and the NSW Rugby Union made the decision to pursue the termination of Israel Folau’s contract because of a serious breach of the Professional Players Code of Conduct," the statement read.

“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 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."

In a statement from his legal team, Folau said that he had received support from a number of Australians who "feel their fundamental rights are being steadily eroded."

"I will forever be grateful and proud to have played the sport I love for our nation," he said.

"Ours is an amazing country build 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 practicing their religion."

The process is expected to progress into a Fair Work hearing, which would likely be a public hearing.

The news comes after Waratahs coach Daryl Gibson revealed on Thursday that younger brother John had been granted an immediate release from the Waratahs.

Folau's contract was terminated last month after a code of conduct panel deemed he was guilty of a high-level breach for a post suggesting homosexuals were destined for hell.

The star fullback opted against appealing that verdict, saying that he didn't believe he would have a fair hearing under the code of conduct process.