Sacked rugby star Israel Folau has broadened his legal case against Rugby Australia, arguing his dismissal over anti-gay comments was “an unreasonable restraint of trade” because it stopped him playing the sport.
Super Rugby’s record try-scorer, who was on a Aus$1 million-a-year (US$690,000), four-year deal, was fired in May for posting online that “hell awaits” gay people and others he considers sinners.
The devoutly Christian fullback launched action against the governing body and NSW Rugby this month, claiming he was unlawfully dismissed under legislation that disallows sackings because of a person’s religion.
He is reportedly seeking Aus$10 million, including for lost sponsorship and marketing opportunities, a sum that could cause major headaches for Rugby Australia.
The governing body insists his dismissal was purely contractual, and a trial has been set for February unless court-ordered mediation in December is successful.
In a 25-page statement of claim, lodged this week and made available Thursday, Folau also argues that a tribunal ruling to sack him was unenforceable because it put unreasonable restraints on his ability to play.
“Mr. Folau can no longer play rugby union at an international level (because he is only eligible to play for the Wallabies) or for an Australian team in the Super Rugby competition and (the penalty) is therefore an unreasonable restraint of trade, contrary to public policy, and void,” the document said.
The claim noted that Folau became a born-again Christian in December 2017 and that he felt he had “a mission and duty to spread what he believes to be the word of God”.
It said the social media platforms he used to do this “were substantially unrelated to rugby union” and his postings were done in his own time and not in the workplace.
“The conduct was not unlawful,” it stated, adding that in Australia there was a governing principle that people were free to share their religious beliefs.
“It is injurious and inimical to the public interest, and therefore against public policy, for a condition in a contract of employment to allow an employer to prohibit an employee, in their own time, from having or adopting any religion or belief,” it said.
The statement of claim also said Folau had previously said he was not homophobic or bigoted, and did not have a problem with gay people.
“He believed it was a loving gesture to share passages from the Bible with others,” it added, referring to the social media post that got him fired.