When Social Theory Collides With Reality Sanctimony Is No Substitute for Truth

17th July 2017

Wading through sanctimonious pronouncements from the Australian Football League is tedious at the best of times, but last week was very different. Waiting patiently for Gill McLachlan AFL chief executive to reveal the substantive reason for the resignations of two of his most senior managers it seems old fashioned morality was at play. How quaint, the AFL invokes Victorian era style morality as justification for effectively ending the employment of the two managers … or has it?

Notwithstanding justifiable dismissal for engaging in illicit sexual relationships, keen students of Mackan’s Law of Employment are aware there is not a general principle that immorality justifies dismissal. It is the effect on the performance of work, rather than immorality as such that is the critical factor.

So, what was the effect on work performance of our two Lotharios? What reason were the two male employees effectively forced to resign but their younger and apparently willing extra-marital partners not sanctioned? Hasn’t the AFL breached the law prohibiting discrimination in employment based on sex, marital status, and age?

A clue to the answer to the first two questions may be found in the AFL declaration entitled ‘Respect and Responsibility’. The policy established in November 2005 is not an unreasonable dissertation on the aims and objectives of improving attitudes and behaviour toward women within the sport. It describes some very useful strategies that it has applied working toward those objectives. However it also includes highly contestable claims regarding gender inequality theory as an explanation for sexual violence.

The formal press release issued last week by Gill McLachlan talks of a journey to a more equal and respectful workplace being more than just words. He says it must be backed up with action and change. The clear implication is the two men didn’t live up to this expectation. McLachlan presumably believes the relationships were an unequal exercise of power over the particular women.

How this unequal power detrimentally manifested the workplace or work performance remains a mystery. Taking a lead from the snippets of information published in newspaper reports it seems that several employees working with the AFL were unhappy with the relationships and the attitude of one or both of the men toward the particular women. However there is no evidence of prejudice for or against the women nor adverse impact on the work performance of any person directly affected. There was not any complaint made to other executives by the women concerned, one which no longer works with the AFL.

Rather, McLachlan trots out the hapless men to the media scrum to confess and apologise following a leak of the information to a Melbourne newspaper. Loss of employment accompanied by public shaming for their sins. Justification for dismissal? I wonder what the two women think of McLachlan’s explanation of unequal power given their relative affluence, social mobility and professional status?

This leads us to the final question of unlawful discrimination. There seems to be little doubt that the employees have been constructively dismissed given the public exposure and admonishment by their employer. The damage to reputation and earning capacity would be substantial.

Surely the inevitable imputation from McLachlan’s statement regarding equal and respectful workplaces and the reference to the ‘young women’ is the men were treated less favourably because of their gender, marital status and possibly age.

So, how does the AFL reconcile the inherently emotional complexity of human relationships inside and outside a workplace with unlawful discrimination and the socially engineered outcomes of gender equality? Surely social theory does not override the statutory obligation not to discriminate against employees on the basis of personal traits even when it is highly paid men.

The sad truth is most probably, the good folk at the AFL will just move on to next weeks games leaving the protagonists to pick up the pieces of their lives, hoping the media has as short a memory as it does for such transgressions.