Folau case may go to trial in February

Amber Wilson
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ISRAEL FOLAU FAIR WORK COMMISSION

Israel Folau wants his contracts reinstated and is asking for $10 million in damages

Israel Folau and Rugby Australia could face a trial in February if they fail to resolve a multimillion-dollar unfair dismissal case brought by the former Wallaby and staunch Christian.

Chief Judge Will Alstergren encouraged the parties to settle their dispute via mediation on December 13 when they met at the Federal Circuit Court in Melbourne on Tuesday.

If mediation fails, Folau will fight Rugby Australia and the NSW Waratahs at a three-to-five-day trial from February 4 next year.

The timeline means Folau will miss the Rugby World Cup, which will be held in Japan from the end of September.

Folau wants an apology, $10 million in damages and his contracts reinstated by his former employers, who say the star player breached their code of conduct with a social media post in April.

The 30-year-old paraphrased a Bible passage on his Instagram page proclaiming that hell awaited "drunks, homosexuals, adulterers, liars, fornicators, thieves, atheists, idolaters" if they did not repent.

Folau, who was not present at Tuesday's hearing, says he was unfairly dismissed on religious grounds.

He says he had "no choice but to commence court action" when the parties failed to reach agreement at a Fair Work Commission mediation in June.

Speaking outside court on Tuesday, Folau's solicitor, George Haros, said an apology would "come a long way to resolving the dispute".

"It's been publicly acknowledged by Israel and his team that he still seeks that apology and that's still very important to him," Mr Haros told reporters.

"Israel's very forthright in his views and he's an extremely strong at this stage of the proceeding."

Rugby Australia has applied for the case to be heard in Sydney or by the Federal Court of Australia rather than the Federal Circuit Court.

The sporting body's lawyers have also applied for documents filed during proceedings to remain confidential.

Folau's lawyer, Stuart Wood QC, criticised the applications, saying they were attempts to delay proceedings, adding he wanted Judge Alstergren to be aware of "what's going on in the background".

"We are conscious that there are going to be attempts to further delay the rights of my client to have this matter quickly dealt with," he said.

The allegation was denied by Rugby Australia lawyer Adam Hochroth, who said the matter wasn't just an employment issue but an important matter of public interest better dealt with by the Federal Court.

Judge Alstergren replied he would not allow anything to delay the case.

If mediation is unsuccessful, the parties will return to court on December 17 for a directions hearing before a trial.

More than 20,000 people have donated about $2.2 million to an Australian Christian Lobby fund set up to contribute to Folau's legal fight.

Folau's Instagram and Twitter pages were temporarily deactivated on Monday without explanation, but went live again the same day before Tuesday's hearing.