Michael O’Leary expected to take stand in Ryanair case against Bellew
High Court action to prevent outgoing COO joining rival Easyjet next month set to begin
Ryanair’s annual report and filings with the US Securities and Exchange Commission show it has given share options to senior managers several times since 2014. Photograph: Raul Caro/EPA
The airline’s High Court action to prevent Mr Bellew from joining its competitor as chief operating officer until January 2021 begins before Mr Justice Senan Allen on Tuesday and is likely to last four days.
Mr O’Leary and Mr Bellew are both expected to take the stand to give evidence, meaning both will not only have to testify, but face cross examination from the other side’s lawyers.
Ryanair confirmed that it intended taking legal action against Mr Bellew shortly after Easyjet announced in late July that he would become its new chief operating officer from January 2020.
The case is understood to hinge on an agreement tied to share options issued to Mr Bellew and other senior managers in 2018. Ryanair says that this bars him from joining any competitor for one year after leaving its employment.
Ryanair’s filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), the US stock market regulator, show that it gave 10 million share options to 102 senior managers and 11 non-executive board members during 2019.
Managers could exercise these subject to certain conditions between February 2024 and February 2026.
According to its annual report, there were 39.8 million share options outstanding on March 31st, the end of its last financial year.
Amongst those monitoring the case are a group of US investors, led by the City of Birmingham Firemen’s and Policemen’s Supplemental Pension System, which began legal action against Ryanair in a New York court last year. The airline has dismissed their claim as “invented”.
The US shareholders have hired Irish lawyers to keep a watching brief on Ryanair’s case against Mr Bellew.
Ryanair’s High Court action to prevent Mr Bellew joining rival Easyjet next month begins on Tuesday and is expected to last for the rest of the week.
US investors, led by the City of Birmingham Firemen’s and Policemen’s Supplemental Pension System, which own shares in the Irish carrier, have hired lawyers from a large Dublin firm to watch the proceedings for them.
The pension fund, run by the City of Birmingham, Alabama, led a group of investors that last year filed papers in a New York court against Ryanair and its chief executive, Michael O’Leary.
The shareholders claimed that the airline made misleading statements about its industrial relations. Ryanair and Mr O’Leary dismissed these claims as “invented”.
The case between Ryanair and Mr Bellew begins today before Mr Justice Senan Allen
Ryanair declined to comment on the court action.