Ryanair has been ordered to pay a former Miss World €80,000 for implying she was racist, xenophobic, jealous and narrow-minded.
Rosanna Davison, daughter of Irish singer Chris de Burgh, successfully sued the no-frills airline over a press release it posted on its website over its charity calendar featuring bikini-clad cabin crew.
Dressed in a stylish knee-length black dress and black steel toe encrusted Christian Louboutin shoes, Miss Davison sat alone at the back of the packed courtroom as the majority verdict was returned by a jury.
The model was overheard telling her lawyers “I just texted dad ‘we won’”.
Outside the court Miss Davison, who was crowned Miss World in 2003, said she was delighted with the outcome and thanked her fans for their support.
Her solicitor Paul Tweed said: “Rosanna is obviously very satisfied with this outcome and the complete vindication of her reputation.”
Mr Tweed said it would be inappropriate to comment on what Miss Davison would do with her award of €40,000 for compensatory damages and €40,000 for aggravated damages.
The case centred on a statement posted on www.Ryanair.com on November 11 2008 in response to remarks Miss Davison made the previous day in a newspaper.
The model — a sociology and history of art graduate and a newspaper columnist — had been asked by a journalist about what she thought of the lack of any Irish women in Ryanair’s 2009 charity calendar.
Miss Davison said she was correctly quoted the next day as saying: “If I was (organising) it, I would have made sure that Irish women were involved because it’s an Irish charity and Irish fundraising.”
The following day the airline issued its press release which stated Ryanair “today hit back at comments made by Irish glamour model Rosanna Davison in relation to the absence of Irish cabin crew from Ryanair’s 2009 charity calendar which ‘bordered on racism and demonstrated an elitist attitude against Ryanair’s international cabin crew’.”
Miss Davison, 27, of Cornelscourt, Dublin, claimed the release defamed her and meant she was racist, xenophobic and jealous and took legal action when Ryanair refused to apologise.
Ryanair denied defamation and maintained it stated her comments bordered on racism and not that she was racist.
Outside court Stephen McNamara, Ryanair’s head of communications who wrote the press release, said the airline would appeal the award and stood by his right to defend the charity calendar.
But the airline then released a statement saying the award was less than the cost of an appeal to the Supreme Court.
“We have decided not to bother appealing as we are very happy with this outcome,” it added.
Mr McNamara said he hoped its 2012 calendar will be widely supported.
“Rosanna herself can apply,” he joked.
“If she wants to apply we’ll consider her. But the best girls will always get in.”
Martin Hayden, senior counsel for Ryanair, had earlier described the action as an entire storm in a tea cup.
However her barrister Declan Doyle argued Ryanair’s reaction was ‘grossly disproportionate’ and continued to damage her reputation by still being on its site.
He told jurors they should also award compensation for the damage done by the “enormous bullying monster of a defendant called Ryanair”.
Mr Justice Eamon de Valera had warned any award of damages should be appropriate and not unnecessarily extravagant.
Last November a record €10 million was awarded to executive Donal Kinsella over a press release issued by a company about an “incident” in Mozambique in which he sleep walked naked to a female colleague’s bedroom.
That award broke a previous record of €1.87 million to PR consultant Monica Leech in June 2009 over a series of articles in the Evening Herald.