Folau to appeal contract termination to Fair Work Commission
MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — Lawyers for former Australia fullback Israel Folau say they will ask the Fair Work Commission to rule that Folau’s contract termination by Rugby Australia over his anti-gay social media posts was unlawful.
Rugby Australia and Folau’s Super Rugby team, the New South Wales Waratahs, terminated Folau’s contract on May 17 for a breach of their code of conduct by sharing a message from the Bible, saying homosexuals, drunks, adulterers and other so-called “sinners” were destined for hell unless they repented.
“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,” a statement by Folau’s lawyers said Thursday. “Under section 772 of the Fair Work Act it is unlawful to terminate employment on the basis of religion.”
Folau said in the statement he felt his treatment by Rugby Australia and the Waratahs had left him no choice but to “stand up for his beliefs and the rights of all Australians.”
“No Australian of any faith should be fired for practicing their religion,” Folau said.
Rugby Australia responded Thursday by saying its contract obligations by Folau were clear.
“This is an issue of an employee and his obligations to his employers within the contract that he signed,” the Rugby Australia statement said. “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.”
The code of conduct charge sparked debate in Australia about freedom of speech and the right of players to express their beliefs. It also followed a warning Folau received from Rugby Australia last year over a social media post that drew criticism from some rugby followers, including a major sponsor of the game.
In February, Folau signed a contract extension to remain with the Sydney-based Waratahs and Australian rugby until the end of 2022. He was set to play an important role in Australia’s World Cup campaign, starting in September.
Folau has been the undisputed star in his 73 test matches for the Wallabies since he joined the rugby union ranks following professional contracts in Australian rules football and in rugby league, where he also represented Australia. He also has the record for most tries by any player in the Super Rugby tournament.