Thursday, May 7, 2009 | 11:45 p.m.
Vision Airlines Inc. of North Las Vegas, the government contractor known for making classified charter flights into war zones, has filed a lawsuit against five former employees who Vision claims are trying to undermine its business.
Among those Vision is suing is former pilot Gerald Hester, who in January sued the airline over his claim that it failed to provide he and other crew members with required additional hazard pay for flying into war zones such as Baghdad, Iraq, and Kabul, Afghanistan.
Besides Hester, those sued by Vision on Wednesday in Clark County District Court in Las Vegas were: Former pilot Juan Salicrup Mayoral, former flight attendant Ronald Borz, former accounting assistant Gwen Carson and former pilot Daniel Carson.
Also sued were Mayoral's wife, Heleni Salicrup, and two companies Vision says they control: Salko Enterprises Inc. and Salko International.
None of the defendants could be located for comment Thursday and Hester's attorneys in his January lawsuit could not immediately be reached for comment. Daniel Carson has previously been identified as Vision's former director of flight operations who, according to the January lawsuit, was fired after he started asking questions about the hazard pay issue.
In the new lawsuit, Vision says the former employees had signed non-competition and non-disclosure agreements along with a ``classified information nondisclosure agreement with the United States.''
But now, Vision charges, the defendants and possibly others have been contacting, sometimes through Salko, three companies that Vision says it has had aviation services contracts with: Capital Aviation Inc., Computer Sciences Corp. and McNeil Technologies Inc.
The defendants are accused of releasing confidential information and trade secrets to attempt to convince Vision customers and companies it does business with to enter into new contracts with the defendants and terminate their contracts with Vision.
``Defendants have also released confidential and trade secret information to the press in an attempt to defame, harass and annoy plaintiff Vision enough that'' it could lose business, the lawsuit charged.
The airline claims the defendants have misappropriated trade secrets and possibly classified information stolen from Vision. Vision's claims against the defendants include breach of contract, interfering with Vision's contractual relationships, conspiracy and racketeering.
Vision, in its lawsuit, seeks unspecified general and punitive damages and a declaration that the defendants have violated their nondisclosure agreements.
Hester's lawsuit, in the meantime, is proceeding to the discovery phase in U.S. District Court in Las Vegas. The court has not yet ruled on his request that it be declared a class-action on behalf of all Vision flight crews who worked the dangerous flights in and out of Iraq and Afghanistan.
That lawsuit says Vision, known locally for flying Grand Canyon tour flights, has received at least $21 million in hazard pay but failed to pass all of it on to the crews and could be liable to at least 300 current and former employees.
"Vision’s employees risked their lives by flying missions into Iraq and Afghanistan in support of the United States government operations in those countries," Las Vegas attorney Ross Goodman said when he filed the suit. "In return the government provided Vision with hazard pay for those employees.
"Vision betrayed the trust of its people when it decided to keep that hazard pay for itself," he said.
Pilots have described Vision's contracts with government agencies or other contractors as being part of an air bridge linking Afghanistan and Iraq with the United States, and with U.S. bases outside of the war regions. The purpose of some of the classified flights was to ferry personnel to and from antiterrorism and military operations. The passengers typically included CIA and State Department personnel along with employees of private security contractor Blackwater, one pilot has said.
The hazard pay due to charter crews flying to and from Iraq is $2,500 for each captain, first officer and international relief officer for each take-off and landing, the suit says. Other crew members such as flight attendants and mechanics are to receive $1,500 each for each take-off and landing, the suit says.
Vision, in the meantime, has responded in court that Hester's lawsuit should be thrown out because he was paid exactly what Vision had promised to pay him when he was hired.
``Plaintiff was hired to pilot planes into and out of Kabul and Baghdad. He understood the risks associated with his position when he accepted his rate of compensation. And his continued employment by Vision makes plain that he received what he expected,'' Vision said in an April court filing. ``He should not now be permitted to seek new and additional compensation based on principles of `fairness' or `equity.'''
Or, put another way by Vision attorney Harold Gewerter: ``Under plaintiff's theory of recovery, for example, an employee could claim that his employer had earned too much from the benefit of his labor, and that it would be `unjust' or `unfair' for the employer to keep those profits without paying additional retroactive compensation. This proposition not only is contrary to the concept of a free market, but also would destroy an employer's ability to set the wages of its employees.''