Israel Folau has formally launched Federal court proceedings against Rugby Australia and the New South Wales Waratahs over his dismissal for a code of conduct breach.
The former Wallabies fullback’s four-year contract was torn up in May after he posted a meme on social media that said hell awaited ‘drunks, homosexuals, adulterers’ and other groups.
In June, Folau and Rugby Australia entered mediation at a Fair Work Commission hearing, the first step in an unfair dismissal case, but there was no resolution after a nearly four-hour meeting.
“Unfortunately, our conciliation before the Fair Work Commission did not resolve the matters between us and I have been left with no choice but to commence court action,” Folau said in a statement released on Thursday.
Folau, a fundamentalist Christian, and his supporters have painted the issue as one of freedom of speech and the case could have ramifications for employee rights.
A Rugby Australia tribunal found Folau had made a “high-level breach” of its code of conduct, which demands players treat “everyone equally, fairly and with dignity”.
Folau, who was one of the Wallabies’ few world-class players, had been expected to play a key role in the team’s World Cup campaign starting in Japan next month.
He has hired a high-power legal team and raised a A$2m (£1.12m) war-chest from supporters via a Christian lobby group to fund the proceedings.
“I’ve been blessed to have the support from tens of thousands of Australians throughout my journey and I want to say thank you to everyone who has offered their prayers and their support,” Folau said in a video posted on Youtube.
“It has meant so much to (wife) Maria and me over the last few months and gives us strength for the road ahead.”