Israel Folau files lawsuit claiming sacking over homophobic comments was ‘unreasonable’

Israel Folau arrives ahead of his conciliation meeting with Rugby Australia at Fair Work Commission on June 28, 2019 in Sydney, Australia

Rugby star Israel Folau has filed a legal claim against Rugby Australia and the New South Wales Waratahs, seeking $10 million in compensation after he was sacked for homophobic comments.

The player was sacked in May over social media posts telling  gay people that “hell awaits” them, and has subsequently delivered anti-LGBT+ sermons blaming the devil for transgender children.

He filed a statement of claim with Australia’s Federal Circuit Court on Thursday, August 29, alleging he faced discrimination because of his religious beliefs.

Israel Folau claims he has ‘fundamental human right and freedom’ to make anti-LGBT posts+.

The legal claim states: “Mr Folau is a devout Christian, which the parties well knew at the time they entered into the player contract.

“He maintained social media accounts, not for the purpose connected to his employment as a rugby player, but primarily for the purpose of lawfully communicating religious content. He did this because of his religious faith, which goes to the very essence of his personhood.

“In his own time, Mr Folau uploaded some religious content on his social media accounts, as was his usual practice. There was nothing unlawful about his conduct, which was a manifestation of his religion and consistent with his freedom of religious expression.”

Israel Folau speaks to media following aconciliation meeting with Rugby Australia at Fair Work Commission on June 28, 2019 in Sydney, Australia.

Israel Folau speaks to media following aconciliation meeting with Rugby Australia at Fair Work Commission on June 28, 2019 in Sydney, Australia. (Mark Metcalfe/Getty)

The claim continues: “This benign conduct, which the community accepts is a recognised fundamental human right and freedom, did not justify any punitive action being taken against him by his employer under the player contract or otherwise.

“It certainly did not justify Mr Folau losing his career and livelihood.

“Instead, the respondents did precisely that and terminated the player contract. As a result, Mr Folau is no longer able to play elite rugby in or for Australia again.”

The player is demanding his reinstatement, an apology and $10 million in damages, claiming the action against him is “an unreasonable restraint of trade, contrary to public policy”.

Rugby Australia says player breached his contract.

Rugby Australia and the NSW Waratahs have a month to reply to the legal claim, with a court hearing expected to take place in February unless a settlement is agreed in mediation.

In a previous joint statement, the two organisations said they “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 said: “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.”

The statement stressed: “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.”