The recent travails of the Australian cricket team have been the cause for some rejoicing amongst England fans who are old enough to remember the dark days of, well, most of the last 30 years.

One individual probably quite seriously conflicted over the whole thing is Mickey Arthur, the recently deposed Australian coach.  To recap, only 16 days before the first Ashes Test, Cricket Australia took the somewhat surprising decision to dismiss Mr Arthur from his position.  He was replaced by Darren Lehmann who had the qualifications of a) not being Mr Arthur and b) actually being Australian (Mr Arthur is South African).  Indeed, whilst Mr Arthur had been lauded only a few months earlier for taking a firm stance on responsibility and suspending four players (see blog post Australian Cricketers Test Disciplinary Boundaries), Mr Lehmann seamlessly became the next great hope to take Australia back to the summit or the world game.

Mr Arthur took his dismissal stoically, at least publically, stating “I’ve got to set the standards. If things go wrong on your watch, you certainly pay the price. It’s a tough pill to swallow but that’s ultimately what I signed up for.”  However, it transpires that off the field Mr Arthur is bringing a number of claims to the Australian Fair Work Commission, allegedly seeking AUS$ 4m in damages or reinstatement.  I should say at this point that the only confirmed information is that Mr Arthur has brought a case.  Under the relevant legislation, the exact details of the case are confidential, or should have been, until someone leaked them to Channel 7 in Australia.  It is alleged that the claims include racial discrimination and that the decision to dismiss (allegedly as a result of continued poor conduct by the Australian players on his watch, culminating in one punching an England player in a nightclub, apparently for wearing an Australian wig as a beard, as you do) was taken without allowing him a fair hearing over the issue.

The interesting angle here is the racial discrimination claim, which is allegedly founded on the premise that Mr Arthur was discriminated against because he was South African and did not understand the “Australian way”.  Leaving aside the fact that there seems to be no clear agreement on what the “Australian way” actually is (one magazine article ironically describing it as multi-cultural), this claim, in isolation, is perhaps not quite so far-fetched as it may seem.

For example, an employee in a foreign-owned bank where senior management is dominated by a nationality that he does not share may not understand the finer points of the customs or etiquette particular to that country and may inadvertently breach these, for example by suggesting an improvement to a plan put forward by a superior, which in some societies would be taken as a serious criticism.  If this breach then leads to the employee being ostracised or overlooked for promotion, then he may in theory have a claim for indirect discrimination.  In this case, if Mr Arthur’s attempts to impose discipline were viewed by some within Cricket Australia as overly pernickety and not in keeping with a more traditional, Australian view of things, and if his dismissal were to be connected to this, then he would potentially (under UK employment law, at least) be able to claim discrimination.  Indeed, Mr Arthur’s case may be more simple, in that if Cricket Australia just decided that it needed someone more ‘Australian’ in charge for the Ashes series, then he would clearly have a discrimination claim, unless Cricket Australia could show that it was a genuine requirement of the role for someone to be Australian (though you might rather expect them to have thought about that at the time of his appointment if it were a real issue).

What this case does show, however, is that, even if you know that the dismissal is going to be unfair, it can make commercial sense to dismiss someone for the greater good of the company/team.   If Australia win the Ashes both home and away (which is highly unlikely, if we’re honest), then I suspect that the current furore over this case will recede into the background and this will look like a ‘good’ decision.  If, however, Australia continue to perform poorly, expect this case to rumble on, particularly as it will offer Mr Arthur the obvious argument that the fault lay not with him but with the players, and that his dismissal was therefore unfair.