Virgin Australia faces fine for workplace breach and treatment of PR execs

9 August 2013
The Federal Circuit Court in Brisbane has decided that Virgin Australia breached two executives' employment contracts, and breached the Fair Work Act.

Judge Michael Burnett ruled that the airline should pay each of the two women Kirsty Aitken and Leonie Vandeven a week's salary, for its breaches of their contracts. He further decided that Virgin Australia should pay compensation and would be fined for a breach of the Fair Work Act.

However the judgement found that the women were not discriminated against because they had exercised rights to parental leave or flexible work, or on the basis of family responsibilities or pregnancy, when they lost their jobs while pregnant and returning from parental leave.

Terri Butler, Maurice Blackburn principal and employment law expert who represents the two women, said while Ms Aitken and Ms Vandeven did not succeed on the point of discrimination, Virgin's conduct was still found wanting.

"The Court found that Virgin breached its contractual obligations to both executives, and contravened the Fair Work Act by failing to consult with Ms Aitken while significantly altering her position.

"Both women feel they it was important for them stand up against what they believed to be unfair and unlawful treatment," Ms Butler said.

"To have been successful in some areas does vindicate their position.  We are disappointed that the Judge found in favour of Virgin on other points, and are currently considering whether to appeal this judgement."

The two women were experienced long-serving public relations experts at the airline and were made redundant while pregnant, in one case, and on return from maternity leave, in the other.

The matter has been adjourned to 27 August for submissions as to penalty.

Please note that Ms Aitken and Ms Vandeven are not available for interview.

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