Qantas has lost the first round of its legal bid to push back the date Velocity’s new CEO can start in the role.
The NSW Supreme Court rejected the flag carrier’s attempt to hear the case in Australia, and not in Singapore where Nick Rohrlach signed a contract in 2015.
Earlier this month, Qantas announced it would take legal action against Rohrlach after it emerged he accepted a job working for its own loyalty scheme before then switching to the Virgin rival shortly afterwards.
The business claims it had already shared highly sensitive information while onboarding the ex co-CEO of Jetsar Japan, and is insisting he serve his six-month gardening leave, which would delay his start date from mid-May until 18 September.
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 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 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.
Qantas is set to appeal the decision, arguing, “All the parties are in New South Wales, and Mr Rohrlach’s new role is in Sydney, so it doesn’t make much sense to go to Singapore to resolve this.
“Independent of geography, our argument is simple. Virgin is trying to shortcut the time Mr Rohrlach is required under his contract to wait before accepting a role with a direct competitor.”
Virgin said it was pleased with the judgement and would prepare for the final hearing.
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.
It included Qantas’ chief operating officer, Paul Jones, who left the airline after just three months to become Virgin’s new chief customer and digital officer.
The appointments also included poaching Woolworth’s chief financial officer to take the same role at the airline.
Scurrah apparently resigned in October 2020 to be replaced by the former head of Jetstar late last year.
The new exits include chief commercial officer John MacLeod who is retiring; chief financial officer Keith Neate, who will leave the business at the end of March; chief legal and risk officer Dayna Field; and chief information officer Cameron Stone.
Velocity chief executive Karl Schuster and chief people and culture officer Lucinda Gemmell left the business in January and April 2020, respectively.