Captain of the Western Bulldogs Katie Brennan has lodged a claim in the Human Rights Commission after being banned from playing in tomorrow’s AFLW Grand Final against Brisbane for rough conduct.
Ms Brennan and the Bulldogs believe she was discriminated against on the basis of her gender, when she was suspended for two matches after a hard tackle (pictured above) on Melbourne’s Harriet Cordner in a game against the Demons on Saturday night.
They argued that if a male player in the AFL was involved in the same sort of on-field clash, described as low impact and to the head, he would have been fined and not suspended.
“I believe my tackle on Harriet Cordner was reasonable and I strongly disagree with the guilty finding,” Ms Brennan said.
“It is even more troubling to know that if I was a man playing in the AFL and was reported for the identical tackle, I would not have been suspended and I would be playing in the Grand Final tomorrow.”
A rough conduct charge in the men’s AFL results in a fine of $2,000 for the first offence and $3,000 for the second, but because women players earn a lot less, they aren’t given the option of a monetary penalty, and instead must cop suspensions.
The starting wage for a young AFLW player is $10,500, whereas, young men starting in the AFL earn a minimum of $71,500.
In its failed bid to have the suspension overturned by the league’s Appeals board, Jack Rush QC, acting for the Bulldogs, described the penalty as a “fundamental breach” of the Sex Discrimination Act 1984.
“One of our primary submissions is that it’s close to extraordinary that a woman in the women’s league could have a penalty of suspension when an equivalent men’s league does not amount to a suspension,” Rush said.
He went on to describe the ban as an “outcome which is less favourable than that handed to a male player in equivalent circumstances.”
While Ms Brennan has now given up any hope of playing in the Grand Final, she is pressing ahead with her action in the Human Rights Commission.
“The fight for gender equality is as every bit as important to me as the Grand Final and the decisions I have made reflect both of those priorities,” she said.
Miles Heffernan, Director of Litigation at employee advocacy firm Discrimination Claims, said the suspension is blatantly unfair.
“If you’re a AFLW player at the top of your game, you earn way less than the blokes, and then you have to cop a different – and in this case – more severe penalty, which has cost this young athlete her chance to play in a Grand Final. If you ask me, it stinks,” he said.
“The law says you cannot be discriminated against on the basis of your sex or gender, and it sounds to me like that’s exactly what’s happened in this case.
“If it walks like a duck, and it talks like a duck, then it’s probably a duck.
“The women are paid differently to the men, and then they’re punished differently too – it’s unfair, and it’s inequitable.”