Virgin Australia in court over ex-chief pilot’s bullying claim and claims

Earlier this year, Virgin Australia CEO Jayne Hrdlicka was accused of “bullying and harassment” by the airline’s (now former) chief pilot. Claims by former chief pilot Michael Fitzgerald later led to his dismissal. Fitzgerald is now hoping for appropriate compensation from the Australian Federal Circuit Court.

Bullying and harassment?

Unfortunately, no specific instances of alleged bullying and harassment by Hrdlicka have been made public. However, we do know that Fitzgerald, a 30-year veteran of the aviation industry, sought medical advice in July 2021 before going on leave.

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Months later, it is alleged that the airline’s chief operating officer, Stuart Aggs, told Fitzgerald that “the CEO had lost faith” in him and “it would be better for everyone if he didn’t.” didn’t resume his role and moved on”.

Fitzgerald eventually received a text message with redundancy options. Months later, Fitzgerald filed an order to end the bullying with the Fair Work Commission. Virgin then alleged computer security breaches by Fitzgerald in February 2022, threatening his dismissal.

In early March, Fitzgerald was asked by the airline to appear for two independent medical evaluations. Based on the appraisals, Aggs fired Fitzgerald because he was, as the reports noted, “permanently unemployable.”

The airline’s CEO, Jayne Hrdlicka (centre) is the subject of allegations. Photo: Virgin Australia

In search of just compensation

Both sides then made offers for a quiet stoppage of the work. According to Travel Weekly, Fitzgerald was told by the airline that he was entitled to 12 weeks’ pay, or A$86,148 (about US$60,000) if he quit. The resignation would also be subject to the signing of a discharge document. Fitzgerald’s legal representative, Chris Watters, countered the offer, asking Virgin Australia to:

  • A$925,000 (equivalent to approximately US$642,300)
  • Gold Status
  • Virgin lounge access
  • Staff travel
  • Related Inflight Benefits
  • Other benefits

However, Virgin held firm and offered its original offer again. In response to this lack of movement, Watters adjusted the claim, reducing it to a severance package of A$769,700 (US$534,444). The letter to the airline from Fitzgerald and his legal team states:

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

Virgin Australia and its CEO defend themselves

In the Australian Federal Circuit Court, the airline denied that any wrongdoing by Hrdlicka ever took place. The carrier also defends itself by saying it was unaware of the bullying or a resulting medical condition:

“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 airline says its decision to fire Fitzgerald was based on medical reports and not Fitzerald’s “stop bullying orders”.

The case is expected to be long and drawn-out, with the matter to be reconsidered at the November 15 mediation.

What do you think of this case? Does Fitzgerald have a case against the airline? Let us know by leaving a comment.

Sources: Weekly Travel

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