Qantas has lost an appeal to hear its legal case against Velocity’s new CEO in Australia, rather than Singapore.
The airline is attempting to push back Nick Rohrlach’s start date after it emerged he accepted a job working for Qantas’ loyalty scheme before switching to the Virgin rival shortly afterwards.
NSW Supreme Court appeal judges Tom Bathurst, Andrew Bell and Paul Brereton on Friday backed the initial decision to hold the case in Singapore, where Rohrlach signed a contract in 2015.
“The primary judge did not err …. There was no reason to suppose that the parties intended that the jurisdiction clause would cease to apply in the event that Mr Rohrlach was relocated but continued to be employed under the terms of the employment agreement,” the judgement said.
Qantas said the decision “makes no sense” given all parties are based in Australia.
The flag carrier is taking the action because it says it had already shared highly sensitive information while onboarding Rohrlach, who was also the ex co-CEO of Jetsar Japan.
Qantas wants Rohrlach to serve his six-month gardening leave, which would delay his start date from mid-May until 18 September.
However, the case is complicated because Rohrlach signed the contract in Singapore, and also applied for anti-suit protection there, too, to stop Qantas from enforcing the extended start date.
Qantas argued in the NSW Supreme Court initially that the case should be held in Australia because subsequent agreements nullified another clause in the contract to only allow legal action to take place in Singapore. It also argued holding it in Australia would be more convenient to all parties.
However, Justice David Hammerschlag said in the first hearing that Qantas only “faintly” argued its case and said its submission was “unsustainable”.
“The choice of jurisdiction is clear,” Justice Hammerschlag said. “There is no challenge to the jurisdiction of Singapore … that the proceedings have to be conducted remotely and that the parties will be separated from their Australian lawyers are matters of mere inconvenience. Remotely conducted proceedings have been the order of the day for more than a year now.”
The judge ordered Qantas to pay Rohrlach and Virgin’s costs.
Initially, Qantas called the manner of Rohrlach’s defection “an inglorious sequence of events” before its rival hit back by arguing that it was disappointed “the dominant market player” had “chosen to attack us rather than get on with the job at hand”.
“At this particularly critical juncture, with vaccines rolling out and new virus variants emerging, Australian airlines need to work to get our country flying again,” Virgin added.
In January, Australian Aviation reported how new Virgin chief executive Jayne Hrdlicka’s refreshed senior team included just one executive remaining from predecessor Paul Scurrah’s era.
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