United’s top lawyer resigns ahead of merger

Posted Sep. 30, 2010 at 1:28 p.m.

By Ameet Sachdev and Julie Johnsson | The merger between United and Continental airlines is scheduled to become official on Friday, and there is an unexpected hole in the senior management team.

Tom Sabatino, who was supposed to be the top lawyer inside the combined United-Continental airlines, has resigned, the Tribune has confirmed.

A United spokeswoman said Sabatino has decided not to move forward with the new management team, but she declined to give any reasons for his resignation. Sabatino is staying on an interim basis while the airline recruits a new general counsel to oversee its law department, she said. His last day has not been determined.

Jeff Smisek, Continental’s chief executive officer who will become CEO of the merged airline to be called United, selected Sabatino to be the combined airline’s general counsel.

Sabatino was a surprise pick considering that he had only been with United since March, less than two months before the merger was announced.

Smisek chose Sabatino over Jennifer Vogel, who had been Continental’s general counsel since 2001. Vogel has said that she was not able to move to Chicago, the headquarters of the merged airline, because of personal commitments in Houston.

A source familiar with both airlines said Glenn Tilton, United’s CEO who will become nonexecutive chairman of the combined airline, had lobbied hard to place Sabatino on the new management team, which is split between United and Continental executives.

Sabatino, 51, came to United from drug maker Schering-Plough, where he had been general counsel until November 2009, when Merck bought the company. Before joining Schering-Plough in 2004, he was general counsel for Baxter International in Deerfield.

Sabatino replaced Paul Lovejoy, who left United in November 2009.

United never released an official news release announcing Lovejoy’s resignation. Instead, his departure was made public in a tersely worded one-sentence statement filed on Nov. 5 with the Securities and Exchange Commission. It said only that Lovejoy had “ceased” to serve as general counsel, effective Nov. 1.


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One comment:

  1. sara Sep. 30, 2010 at 6:56 pm

    He saw what is ahead, plan and simple. Tilton sold the airline along with a great number of jobs of people who produced results. This is not a merger, but an aquisition. Say what you will about UA, but not every employee sucks. Tom has a bit more integrity that some of the other sell-outs.