SINGAPORE — In a rare case, a former Qantas senior level employee who had breached a court order requiring him not to work for a competitor was fined $25,000 after he was found to be in contempt of court on Friday (3 December).
Nicolas Robert Adam Rohrlach, an Australian, had breached the court injunction not to work for a competitor until the conclusion of his suit, ruled Justice Mavis Chionh in the suit involving Rohrlach, Qantas Airway, and competitor Virgin Australia.
Rohrlach had already been with Qantas when he was offered a senior leadership role in Qantas Loyalty, Qantas' loyalty programme. Before he could start his new role, he resigned and conveyed his intention to join competitor Virgin as the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Velocity, Virgin’s customer loyalty programme.
His employment contract with Qantas contained a clause which forbade him from joining a competitor for six months. On 1 March this year, Rohrlach filed a High Court application to have the clause declared as having no “legal effect” or “void and unenforceable”.
Against this, Qantas filed for and obtained an injunction against Rohrlach on 29 April this year to stop him from working for or being involved with Virgin until Rohrlach’s suit was concluded or 17 September this year, whichever is earlier.
Justice Chionh found on Friday that Rohrlach breached the injunction twice when he was involved in helping Virgin with the recruitment of other potential employees.
He had helped Virgin with its recruitment process via an email he sent connecting a staff member of Virgin to the CEO of a recruitment startup on one occasion. On the second occasion, he had been asked by Virgin’s senior leadership to meet a potential employee and he had done so via a web meeting.
Rohrlach had argued he had not intentionally breached the injunction as he had wanted to connect a long-time friend and former colleague to the Virgin employee. He also characterised his meet-up with the potential employee as a social meeting.
These arguments were rejected by Justice Chionh, who found Rohrlach’s motive in breaching the injunction irrelevant, as the act of sending the email had been established. She also noted that the meeting with the potential employee would not have come about had it not been for the instructions from Virgin’s senior leadership.
Qantas, represented by Senior Counsel Jason Chan, Vincent Leow, Benjamin Koh, Tan Xue Yang from Allen & Gledhill, sought a jail term of five days for Rohrlach.
Rohrlach, who was not contrite, had not acted under pressure and had repeated breaches of the injunction, the lawyers argued.
However Justice Chionh found that a jail term was not warranted. Rohrlach’s suit to determine the validity and enforceability of the Qantas' non-compete clause is still ongoing.
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