Tuesday, March 3, 2009 | 1:50 a.m.
A covert North Las Vegas airline is denying claims that it withheld federal hazard pay from flight crews that flew dangerous military and diplomatic missions into Afghanistan and Iraq.
Vision Airlines Inc. filed court papers Monday responding to a lawsuit seeking class-action status that was filed in U.S. District Court in January on behalf of Vision flight crews.
January’s lawsuit, filed by former pilot Gerald Hester of Colleyville, Texas, and others similarly situated, 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 the flights into the war zones since 2005, the lawsuit alleges.
But Hester and the other potential plaintiffs have their facts wrong, Vision attorney Harold Gewerter argued in court papers Monday.
He wrote that Hester’s salary was already "materially above market to account for the risks associated with flying into Iraq and Afghanistan.’’ Gewerter wrote that on top of that, Hester contends Vision should pay him additional hazard pay because the U.S. government intended its prime contractors to require downstream subcontractors to make such payments.
"But no contract to which Vision is or was a party ever required Vision to make any specific amount of hazard-duty-related payments,’’ Vision’s response said. "Nor did Vision’s at-will compensation agreement with Hester.’’
"Because no law or contract creates such an obligation, Hester fashions a handful of unjust enrichment-type claims, which he then wraps in the imagery of war and patriotic duty,’’ Vision’s response says. But the bottom line, Gewerter wrote, is that Hester’s pay was defined in his contract and Vision did not violate that contract.
"Without the facts or law on his side, plaintiff crafted a complaint that is both press release and smoke screen,’’ Vision charged in its response.
Gewerter succeeded in having the January lawsuit complaint sealed -- or hidden from public inspection -- for reasons he has not disclosed. He also filed sealed exhibits with his motion to dismiss Monday. He said they were filed under seal to protect trade secrets or other confidential and proprietary information.
It’s unclear when a judge may rule on the motion to dismiss the lawsuit. If that motion is denied, the case is likely to proceed for months as the parties work toward a settlement or trial.
Other than the legal arguments by Gewerter, Vision officials have not commented on the hazard pay dispute.
Known locally for flying Grand Canyon tour flights, Vision also has not commented on published reports that it has been a contractor involved in a CIA “extraordinary rendition” program.
This apparent program, which has attracted the attention of human rights activists, involved the transfer of captive suspected terrorists to various locations around the world for unknown reasons.
Steve Green can be reached at 990-7714 or [email protected].