| 12°C Dublin

Ryanair will have to answer unions issue in US lawsuit 


Claims: Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary’s sold six million shares

Claims: Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary’s sold six million shares

Claims: Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary’s sold six million shares

RYANAIR'S efforts to have a US class action lawsuit against it dismissed have failed, but the judge presiding over the case has said many of the complaints levelled against the carrier don't have any actionable basis.

The lawsuit was launched in New York in 2018 by the City of Birmingham Firemen's and Policemen's Supplemental Pension System, following a pilot rostering fiasco at Ryanair in 2017 which ultimately saw it recognise trade unions.

Judge Paul Oetken dismissed claims in the complaint that the sale of six million shares by Ryanair chief executive Michael O'Leary in months prior to a pilot rostering failure and subsequent union recognition represented a fraudulent motive.

"The fact O'Leary retained the vast majority of his stock holdings substantially undermines plaintiff's claim that O'Leary was motivated to commit fraud," he said.

"It is implausible that O'Leary would engage in (what) the fraud plaintiffs allege and knowingly leave the overwhelming majority of his stock - worth more than €727m after the May 2018 sale - to lose value," lawyers for Mr O'Leary and the airline told the court last year.

However, Ryanair will have to answer the case filed against it to the extent that it made statements regarding the slim chance that there would ever be unionisation at the airline, but then recognising trade unions in December 2017.

The judge said statements by Mr O'Leary indicted a "near certainty" that Ryanair would not recognise trade unions.

"These statements are impossible to reconcile with O'Leary's subsequent admission that he had 'long anticipated' unionisation," noted the judge in a ruling this week on Ryanair's motion to have the case against it dismissed.

"This admission is direct evidence of defendants' knowledge of the true likelihood of unionisation at the time they made the statements denying the existence of any likelihood," he said.

But Judge Oetken dismissed other claims made in the case, including those related to statements about Ryanair's profitability, growth targets and labour relations.

The judge said statements made by Ryanair that it was attracting pilots with "industry-leading" job security and pay, and "excellent working conditions", are not actionable because there are "quintessential puffery" - statements that are "too general to cause a reasonable investor to rely on them".

The judge also noted that the plaintiff had argued that Ryanair failed to disclose that the airline would be unable to meet its growth target of carrying 200 million passengers a year by 2024 without unionisation, specifically because the target relied on expanding operations in union-friendly regions such as France and Scandinavia.

"Once more, plaintiff fails to plead the falsity of these statements because it cites no specific evidence, available to defendants at the time of the omission, establishing that the growth targets indeed required unionisation," said the judge.

"In sum, plaintiff has failed to establish falsity, materiality and scienter [intent] for all of the potentially actionable statements listed in the complaint, with the sole exception of defendants' statements regarding the likelihood of unionisation," he added.

The judge has now given the plaintiff leave to amend the complaint filed against Ryanair. The airline said it does not comment on pending legal matters.

Irish Independent