Aviation

Qantas loses appeal against Virgin convert, forced to continue case in Singapore

The NSW Supreme Court has rejected with costs an appeal by Qantas of a decision that requires the airline to pursue a claim in Singapore to continue its case against one of its former executives.

In January 2021, a new-look Virgin Australia announced several changes to its leadership team. Among these was the arrival of Nick Rohrlach, the 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.

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

Virgin wants Rohrlach to start his role in May, and a case is set to sit before the Singaporean court. This is because Rohrlach signed a contract with Qantas in 2015 in Singapore, which included an ‘exclusive jurisdiction’ clause.

Nick Rohrlach (image source: CAPA)

In March, the NSW Supreme Court heard the question over whether the case should be heard in Australia or Singapore, with Qantas unsuccessfully arguing that it should be heard in Australia.

Justice David Hammerschlag enforced the exclusive jurisdiction clause last month, and appeal judges Tom Bathurst, Andrew Bell and Paul Brereton upheld the decision on Friday 19 March.

A Qantas spokeswoman told Travel Weekly the decision to hear this case in Singapore “makes no sense given all parties are in NSW and Mr Rohrlach’s new job is in Sydney”.

“But, wherever the case is heard, we will defend it strenuously,” the spokeswoman said.

“It beggars belief that we should even have to pursue legal action to get Virgin and Mr Rohrlach to honour a contract that clearly includes a non-compete clause.

“Mr Rohrlach had accepted a senior role at Qantas Loyalty and was briefed on highly sensitive and confidential information in preparation for that role, then turned around a few weeks later to accept a job with a direct competitor.”

A Virgin Australia spokesperson said: “Virgin Australia is pleased with [the] unanimous judgment from the Supreme Court of New South Wales Court of Appeal which dismissed Qantas’ appeal, and ordered Qantas to pay Virgin Australia’s costs.

“Virgin Australia will now prepare for final hearing on the matter in Singapore shortly.”


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