Much has been said about the ongoing dispute between Israel Folau and Rugby Australia. But just a few words uttered by the chair of rugby’s governing body could have inadvertently opened up a whole new legal — and lucrative — avenue for the former Wallabies fullback to pursue, a legal expert has said.
And this could see not just Rugby Australia (RA) at odds with Folau but Qantas and other sponsors as well.
Folau is seeking up to A$10 million in damages from RA after it terminated his contract following an Instagram post that said gay people were headed to hell unless they repented.
Speaking on Friday, after the breakdown of a conciliation meeting between RA and Folau, the code’s chairman Cameron Clyne said his former star player’s repeated posting of controversial social media comments had put him at odds with the Government, staff and sponsors and left them with little choice but to act.
“(The alternative) would be that we’d have no sponsors at all because no sponsor has indicated they would be willing to be associated with social media posts of that sort and that includes government, because we’ve also heard from them,” the former boss of NAB said.
RA’s headline sponsor is Qantas but big brands backing the code also include Land Rover, Swisse and HSBC bank. Both RA and Qantas have said the airline was not involved in the Folau decision.
That admission from the top brass that sponsors do have an effect on the organisation’s decision making has potentially opened a whole can of worms for RA — and a rich seam of damages for Folau, one lawyer has said.
Speaking to The Australian on Monday, Sydney barrister Jeffrey Phillips said it could now be argued the severing of Folau’s contract was at the behest of sponsors.
“If it be the case that sponsors, or even the Government, has placed any pressure on RA to terminate his contract, then that raises prospects of interference with contractual relations and aspects of Australian competition and consumer law, in particular, section 45D dealing with secondary boycotts.” Phillips said.
Legal experts have told news.com.au Folau’s legal team was entitled to attempt to use section 45D to drag Qantas and others into his dispute, and if Folau could show sponsors were behind his sacking, he could be in line for millions.
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