On 5 June 2020, Major League Soccer player Aleksandar Katai was released by his club, the LA Galaxy, after posts made by his wife about the Black Lives Matter movement on Instagram. Mr Katai’s wife had made racist and violent posts disparaging Black Lives Matter protesters. Mr Katai then released a statement apologising for his wife’s actions and declaring that he did not share her views.
Whilst there appeared to be a decision to “mutually part ways”, this case brings into contention the extent to which an athlete could be held responsible for the actions of a spouse or loved one.
Broadly speaking, whether an athlete can be dismissed for the actions of a spouse or loved one will depend on whether the dismissal is considered “harsh, unjust or unreasonable”.
Unfair Dismissal Law
A person who believes they have been unfairly dismissed by their employer may file for a remedy for unfair dismissal under the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth).
Section 385 states that a person has been unfairly dismissed if the FWC is satisfied that:
- the person has been dismissed; and
- the dismissal was harsh, unjust or unreasonable; and
- the dismissal was not consistent with the Small Business Fair Dismissal Code; and
- the dismissal was not a case of genuine redundancy.
What is considered to be “harsh, unjust or unreasonable” is dependent on the circumstances.
In 2016, a UK teacher was sacked for deciding to stay with her husband, who was a convicted child sex offender, after the school requested that she leave him. Nothing suggested that the teacher knew of, or condoned her husband’s actions. The teacher explained that she had stayed with her husband due to her devout Christian belief in the sanctity of marriage. She filed for unfair dismissal and won in part because the decision to dismiss was too deemed as harsh.
A similar case occurred in Coughlin v Greyhound Australia Pty Ltd. There, Ms Coughlin and her husband worked as bus drivers for the company. As part of the code of conduct, employee bus drivers were required to breathalyse themselves in front of a supervisor. A fellow employee reminded her husband to breathalyse himself, but was met with verbal aggression from the husband. Another employer attempted to intervene, but was confronted with more verbal and physical aggression from Ms Coughlin’s husband. Ms Coughlin verbally encouraged her husband’s behaviour and was dismissed by the company.
The Fair Work Commissioner found that while Ms Coughlin’s actions were “unsatisfactory” and “uncalled for”, it did not warrant her dismissal. It further stated that:
“Misconduct justifying dismissal is conduct that is so serious that it goes to the heart of the contract of employment.”
The cases covered in this article provide persuasive precedents where a spouse’s actions were not enough to warrant a dismissal. Defending or standing by a spouse would did not automatically provide grounds for the employee’s dismissal either. Coughlin’s case further demonstrates that the possible violation of an Employer’s Code of Conduct would not necessarily validate a dismissal.
How About Sporting Organisations and Athletes?
In the case of Katai, it is arguable that his wife’s actions would not warrant his dismissal by the LA Galaxy from his employment if the same circumstances occurred in Australia. Furthermore, Katai publicly denounced his wife’s views and conduct.
But what if the circumstances were different and Katai had actively encouraged his wife’s actions? It would then become more arguable that Katai had used his high profile to bring discriminatory views to light. This may amount to a gross violation of the Players’ Code of Conduct and dismissal would be justified in those circumstances.
It is advised that athletes should carefully monitor how they and their loved ones use social media to avoid a contentious dismissal. Conversely, sporting organisations should consider whether the seriousness of an athlete’s misconduct and alternatives to dismissal before deciding that it is the most appropriate course of action.
If you need assistance, please contact Paul Horvath at SportsLawyer on 9642 0435 or reach out to us at email@example.com. Nothing in this article should be relied on as legal advice. The contents of this article should be regarded as information only, and for specific legal matters, independent advice should always be sought.