Aviation

Qantas court win delays defecting exec’s move to Virgin

Qantas has won the next round in its court battle against Virgin Australia over the appointment of a former executive as Velocity Frequent Flyer’s new boss.

In January 2021, a new-look Virgin announced several changes to its leadership team. Among these was the arrival of Nick Rohrlach, former co-CEO of Jetstar Japan, who became the CEO of Velocity following the departure of Courtney Peterson late last year.

However, prior to accepting his role at Velocity, Rohrlach had accepted a senior role at Qantas Loyalty in October.

Qantas is trying to enforce a clause that would postpone his employment at Velocity until September, because it is worried that Rohrlach will exploit trade secrets in his new job.

The flying kangaroo tried to have the matter heard here in Australia instead of Singapore (Rohrlach signed a contract with Qantas in 2015 in Singapore, which included an ‘exclusive jurisdiction’ clause), but its appeal was rejected by the NSW Supreme Court in March.

However, Qantas has since managed to get one back on its rival, with the High Court of Singapore granting Australia’s largest carrier an injunction last week that temporarily stops Rohrlach from commencing his new role at Virgin (he was due to start this week).

So, for now, Rohrlach remains on “gardening leave” until the court matter is finally heard, which could take a while, according to The Australian. A directions hearing has been booked in for 22 May before the trial, which isn’t likely to take place until next month at the earliest.

Nick Rohrlach (image source: CAPA)

Travel Weekly contacted both Qantas and Virgin for comment, but haven’t heard back.

However, a Virgin spokeswoman confirmed to The Australian Financial Review that Rohrlach had been “temporarily restrained from commencing work with us by the High Court of the Republic of Singapore until the court can hear substantive proceedings relating to Mr Rohrlach’s employment with his former employer, Qantas”.

“The substantive proceedings are seeking declarations that restrain provisions, which Qantas are seeking to enforce, are void and unenforceable because they unreasonably stop Mr Rohrlach working for any competitors of Qantas,” the spokeswoman said.

“Virgin Australia categorically denies allegations that it has been anything but proper and appropriate in Mr Rohrlach’s recruitment, and we are confident our position will be vindicated in court.

“We look forward to welcoming Mr Rohrlach to the Virgin Australia family with open arms.”

A Qantas spokesperson told The Australian it was “an inglorious sequence of events to formally accept a new job and, as part of the preparation for it, receive highly sensitive and confidential information, then turn around just few weeks later and take a job where that information would give you a real advantage”.


Featured image source: iStock/NiseriN

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