Aviation

Virgin CEO accused of bullying by former chief pilot

Virgin Australia’s former chief pilot, Michael Fitzgerald, has accused the airline’s CEO, Jayne Hrdlicka, of “bullying and harassment” in a Fair Works claim against the carrier.

Fitzgerald, who was also Virgin’s general manager of flight operations, has argued that his workplace rights were violated when his contract was terminated while he was on extended sick leave.

Former Virgin Australia chief pilot Michael Fitzgerald | LinkedIn

Virgin denied the allegations to Australian Aviation and said it would be “vigorously defending the matter.”

Virgin’s former chief pilot made the claims in court documents lodged at the Federal Circuit Court on Tuesday, which also claimed that his seven-month absence from work was due to Hrdlicka’s alleged bullying. Fitzgerald is still trying to be reinstated at the airline, despite these claims.

According to The Australian, Fitzgerald’s employment was terminated after “multiple independent assessments of his fitness to work.”

“The allegations against ­Virgin Australia’s CEO were raised on December 24, 2021, ­investigated by an external party in January 2022, and were not substantiated,” the airline said.

Court documents allege that the 30-year aviation industry veteran was forced to seek medical advice in July last year and then went on leave.

Fitzgerald was allegedly told three months later by Stuart Aggs, Virgin’s COO, that “the CEO had lost con­fidence” in him and “it would be better for everyone if he didn’t ­return to his role and moved on.”

The former chief pilot met with Hrdlicka on a one-on-one basis twice “as part of a professional development initiative to support the improvement of his performance,” according to The Australian.

Court documents said Fitzgerald was sent a text message with redundancy options six days later – on 25 October – and two months after this an application for an order to stop bullying was filed with the Fair Work Commission.

Virgin then filed a show-cause notice, alleging IT ­security breaches in February 2022 and threatened his dismissal.

“(Captain Fitzgerald) claims that he was further bullied and threatened with show-cause proceedings on 25 February 2022,” the documents state.

“There were in fact no security breaches. (Captain Fitzgerald) merely sourced non-confidential emails addressed to him in compliance with FWC directions to file all materials and documents.”

The court documents state that “(Virgin Australia) ­injured (Captain Fitzgerald) in his employment, namely by continuing to bully and threaten him, and by raising false claims of alleged misconduct, which (the airline) withdrew/discarded on 1 March 2022.”

Fitzgerald claims he was discriminated against on the grounds of his impairment, which is a mental health injury caused by the CEO’s “bullying and harassment.”

The case will be heard in court on 13 June.



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