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Pilot claiming bullying asked for $900,000, say Virgin

written by Adam Thorn | August 19, 2022

Virgin has claimed its former chief pilot only made bully accusations after the airline turned down his request for a $900,000 payout and gold status lounge access.

The Australian reported the alleged revelation from new court documents, which also suggested the senior employee would depart “quietly” if a subsequent deal could be agreed.

Michael Fitzgerald earlier this year lodged a claim for unfair dismissal, which accused CEO Jayne Hrdlicka of bullying, leading to mental health issues and a seven-month sick leave absence.

Virgin has hit back in a new defence in which it claimed chief operating officer Stuart Aggs initially told Fitzgerald that redundancy was not an option, but he could exit on his current salary terms.


“No allegation was made at that time that Mr Fitzgerald had been bullied at work, and no further information was provided regarding his medical condition,” the defence states.

Two weeks later, he was told he could claim 12 weeks pay, or $86,148 if he signed a deed of release.

In response, Fitzgerald’s barrister Chris Watters demanded $925,000 plus perks, including gold status Virgin lounge access.

When Virgin reinstated its previous offer, Watters then requested a severance payment of $770,000.

“Mr Fitzgerald’s preference is not to engage in complex, expensive and protracted litigation,” said Watters’ letter.

“Mr Fitzgerald is prepared to depart the company quietly, and on good terms, subject to payment of a settlement sum of $769,700 by way of an ex-gratia payment (that is not taxable) to be paid to Mr Fitzgerald’s bank account.”

Virgin said this was rejected on 17 December, and five days later, the employee filed an application for a “stop bullying order” from the Fair Work Commission.

“This was the first occasion on which Mr Fitzgerald had ever raised any allegations that he had been bullied at work,” said the defence.

Fitzgerald then attended two medical assessments before Aggs terminated his position because he believed the medical reports indicated he would be unfit for work long-term.

Virgin has previously told Australian Aviation it “unequivocally” denies the bullying allegations and said it would be “vigorously defending the matter”.

Fitzgerald’s earlier court filings claimed he was blamed by management for its failure to agree on a new enterprise agreement with its pilots, which was overwhelmingly voted down by 90 per cent of participants.

The ongoing matter is set for mediation on 15 November.

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