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August 21, 2014

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Airline crew gets early win over war-zone hazard pay

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Former Vision Airlines crew members claiming to be owed hazard pay for flying into war zones won an initial legal victory Monday when a Nevada judge rejected Vision's motion that their lawsuit be dismissed.

While not addressing the merits of the proposed class action filed by Gerald Hester, U.S. District Judge Roger Hunt said attorneys for Hester properly presented his claims.

"The court cannot, at this stage of the proceedings, make a determination of whether plaintiff has a good case, it can only determine whether he has alleged one," the judge wrote. "The court finds he has alleged claims that, if found to be true, will permit recovery."

Vision, the judge wrote, sought dismissal of the case based on factual contentions.

Hunt said such contentions are more appropriate for a motion for summary judgment, as opposed to a motion for dismissal.

Harold Gewerter, attorney for Vision, on Tuesday said the rejection of the motion for dismissal was based on procedural grounds and that the company would continue to vigorously contest the suit.

In January, Hester sued the North Las Vegas airline on behalf of himself and others similarly situated.

Hester and his attorneys said that Vision, as a federal contractor, has received millions of dollars intended as hazard pay for flight crews -- but has failed to pay the crews all of the hazard pay due them.

More than 300 current and former employees have been involved with dangerous covert flights into war zones in places like Iraq and Afghanistan since 2005, the lawsuit alleges.

Vision has disputed it owes hazard pay, saying in court papers: "No contract to which Vision is or was a party ever required Vision to make any specific amount of hazard-duty-related payments."

Known for offering charter and tour flights, Vision has also gained notoriety in published reports linking it to a CIA "extraordinary rendition" program.

The agency is said to have flown captured suspected terrorists to various spots around the world for unknown reasons.

Separately, Vision and a Vision executive, Larry Siggelkow, were sued in Clark County District Court in Las Vegas last week by the law firm Woods Erickson Whitaker & Maurice LLP.

The law firm claims Vision has failed to pay more than $24,000 for legal services and that Siggelkow has breached a contract to personally guarantee payment.

On Tuesday, Gewerter said he had not seen the lawsuit.

He said any assertion that Vision owes money to the law firm is false and that the complaint will be fought vigorously, including the filing of a counterclaim.

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