Revolving door and the Union’s legal woes

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Mata'afa Keni Lesa

And so the revolving door that is the Samoa Rugby Union (S.R.U.) continues to spin uncontrollably. The latest to have been ejected is the former Manager of the Manu Samoa Sevens, Leulua’iali’i Theresa Passi, whose fate was cemented last week when the Union announced her replacement.

Unlike previous commotions at the often-controversial Union, this one comes with a bit of a bite. Leulua’iali’i is not taking anything lying down. She is in fact threatening to sue the Union over her dismissal, joining a queue of disgruntled ex-officials who have taken the Union to Court in the not too distant past.

It wasn’t that long ago that former Sevens Coach and Englishman, Damian McGrath, had sued the Union for a million tala over his sacking. 

What has happened to that, we are not sure at this stage. But with the latest incident, the legal team at the Union sure have their hands full. It’s a good thing another former coach, Namulauulu Alama Ieremia, did not pursue legal action after a review recommended that his services be terminated otherwise it would be really bizarre. 

Speaking of bizarre, Leulua’iali’i’s exit is just that. 

About this time last week, a media statement from the Union said the former Manager had “stepped down.” But as it turned out, she hadn’t stepped down; her services had in fact being terminated. And she wasn’t prepared to disappear quietly into the night. The next day she revealed that “factional jostlings for preferred personnel ensued in the last two to three weeks” of her time with the Union. She added that conditions within the Samoa Rugby Union are not only “exhausting” they are not ideal for women.

“I do feel for the women working for the S.R.U. A woman can do the job subject to having a management team that practices what the organisation aspires to do,” she said.

The role, she described, was not attractive. It required cooking breakfast, serving breakfast, shopping for groceries with her own money,  driving to the airport at ungodly hours and much, much more. And having tried her best to do all that, Leulua’iali’i was finally told of her fate. 

 “I was then called in to a supposed review of the trial week, only to be told at the meeting that the Union preferred a more experienced manager.”

Now there are always two sides to a story. During an interview with the Weekend Observer for instance, the Chief Executive Officer of the S.R.U, Faleomavaega Vincent Fepulea’i, rejected Leulua’iali’i claims. He was especially incensed by the claim the S.R.U. is not a conducive environment for women. 

“We have five females on our staff and they are the most hardworking employees we have on our staff,” Faleomavaega said. “So I take personal offense to the allegations of gender discrimination. I admire and have the utmost respect for the women in S.R.U.”

According to Faleomavaega, the decision to part ways with Leulua’iali’i was based on a review of her work performance. 

“The decision was made following her work performance review at the end of her three months probationary term, which is something Theresa was well aware of,” said Faleomavaega. “At the end of the day, the coach makes the recommendations following the review. A recommendation the S.R.U. has to consider. After consulting with Sir Gordon, Theresa regrettably still had a lot to learn and she acknowledged this.”

Faleomavaega went on to cite “poor planning” as one of the key considerations behind their decision.

 “The lack of proper planning, to the catering of the players during training is well within the duties of the Manager,” he said. “So the procedure is that, a proposal is drafted, presented to management and once it’s approved then, we can go ahead and purchase what was needed.” 

“But that did not happen here. There was no pre-planning and things were purchased then the S.R.U. was asked to reimburse what they did not approve.” 

“Policies and procedures are in place for a reason. S.R.U. operates on limited funds and so when mistakes are made and unnecessary costs have to be paid by S.R.U. as a result of mistakes, that is unacceptable.”

Okay then, fair enough. 

Let’s wait and see what becomes of the threat of legal action. 

But as far as popular public opinion goes, the Union will not win this one.

Whatever they say, the public perception is that a legitimately hardworking woman manager was bullied from an old boys club so to speak. 

The issue here, as it has been in the past with previous cases like McGrath, is not just the sacking of an official. It is in the manner it was done and the reasons behind it.

You see when Leuluaiali’i was appointed a few months ago, the Union made a big song and dance about it. Everyone who supported the move got so excited and thought oh wow we are finally moving in the right direction in as far as the Union being an equal opportunity employer is concerned. 

Alas, the party hasn’t lasted. Once again we are right back to square one – with the added burden of yet another expensive lawsuit in the works for a Union who simply cannot afford it. This is sheer madness.

Stay tuned!

© Samoa Observer 2016

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