Israel Folau is taking legal action against Rugby Australia after being sacked for homophobic comments. Picture: Geoff Caddick/AFP
Israel Folau is taking legal action against Rugby Australia after being sacked for homophobic comments. Picture: Geoff Caddick/AFP

Folau rejects tribunal decision and blasts ‘biased’ lawyer

ISRAEL Folau has taken aim at a progressive lawyer who was part of a three-member tribunal that ruled he should be fired for two offensive social media posts.

The legal team for the rugby union player has filed documents in the Federal Circuit Court suggesting one of Sydney's top employment barristers, Kate Eastman, should not have been included on the tribunal.

Ms Eastman is a co-founder and member of Australian Lawyers for Human Rights, which Folau points out is an organisation that advocated for the LGBTI community.

She has also been the chairwoman of the Law Council of Australia's Equal Opportunity Committee, the NSW Bar Association's Diversity and Equality Committee, and the Australian Bar Association's Diversity and Inclusion Committee.

In documents filed on October 10, Folau said he had objected to Ms Eastman's appointment shortly after it was announced but she refused to step aside.

He believed the tribunal decision should be declared void as it was affected by "apprehended bias" due to her inclusion.

Folau's legal team suggests Ms Eastman's personal views may have influenced her legal judgement.

Israel Folau speaks to the media outside the Fair Work Commission earlier this year. Picture: Jonathan Ng
Israel Folau speaks to the media outside the Fair Work Commission earlier this year. Picture: Jonathan Ng

Folau requested a Code of Conduct Tribunal be convened after Rugby Australia issued a breach notice to him for two controversial social media posts he made in April 2019.

Folau is a born-again Christian whose faith regards homosexuality as a sin. On Instagram he posted a warning aimed at homosexuals, atheists and other sinners that "hell awaits you".

He also posted a comment on Twitter about Tasmania's decision to make gender optional on birth certificates: "The devil has blinded so many people in this world. REPENT and turn away from your evil ways. Turn to Jesus Christ who will set you free".

The tribunal ruled in May that Folau had breached the Code of Conduct and sacking him was appropriate.

Folau's filing stated: "The decision of Ms Eastman SC and the other members of the tribunal was, in all of the circumstances, manifestly excessive, severe and unreasonable." 

Folau is pursuing legal action against Rugby Australia and Waratahs Rugby in the Federal Circuit Court, arguing that the tribunal's decision is void. He is also seeking damages.

Ms Eastman's own social media presence may be used against her.

On her LinkedIn page she lists six personal "influencers" including prominent marriage equality campaigner Qantas Group CEO Alan Joyce and New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, who was the first NZ PM to march in a gay pride parade.

Kate Eastman's social media including information on her LinkedIn page may be used against her.
Kate Eastman's social media including information on her LinkedIn page may be used against her.

Ms Eastman was appointed by Rugby Australia to sit on the tribunal, and has been described as a "rock star" of the legal world.

She has represented high-profile clients including former ABC managing director Michelle Guthrie and Taliban supporter David Hicks.

Also on the tribunal was employment law expert John West QC, who was chosen by agreement between Rugby Australia and the Rugby Union Players' Association.

The third tribunal member, appointed by RUPA,  was sports administrator John Boultbee AM, who was part of the panel that found Wallabies star Kurtley Beale guilty of a 2014 code-of-conduct breach for sending an offensive photo to a rugby union employee.

In documents filed by Folau's legal team, it pointed out that Folau had agreed to apologise publicly for "any pain or sense of confusion" and for Rugby Australia to review his social media posts before they were uploaded as well as other measures.

Despite this, his team said the tribunal did not pause the hearing or start conciliation or mediation proceedings.

However, documents filed by Rugby Australia noted that Folau said during the hearing that he was not willing to take down the offending posts, and he suggested he could make other similar social media posts in the future whether or not Rugby Australia approved.

News Corp Australia

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