Wednesday, Nov. 10, 2010 | 11:14 a.m.
A federal jury on Tuesday awarded $4.5 million to crew members of a North Las Vegas charter airline who said they were shorted on extra hazard pay due them for flying government missions into war zones in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The decision doesn't end the divisive lawsuit pitting pilots, flight attendants and other crew members against Vision Airlines Inc. -- Vision today said it intends to appeal while attorneys for the pilots plan to press for an injunction requiring Vision to abide by contracts requiring that hazard pay be awarded in the future.
The lawsuit, filed in Las Vegas in January 2009 by attorneys for former Vision pilot Gerald Hester of Colleyville, Texas, claimed Hester and 174 more current and former employees hadn’t received extra pay for flying in and out of war zones in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2005.
Because of the danger of enemy ground fire, the flights in and out of the airports involved difficult maneuvers and typically were conducted at night.
The lawsuit said at least $21 million was due the flight crews, but an attorney for the pilots today said that based on the evidence available to them, they ended up asking for and receiving $4.5 million.
"It's a great result for the class," crew members' attorney David Buckner said of the class-action plaintiffs.
In court papers, the pilots said Vision, a subcontractor, had received extra hazard pay from the contractors that had hired Vision -- but Vision didn't forward the extra money to the crew members.
It's not yet known how much each of the affected crew members will receive from the $4.5 million. If the decision is upheld on appeal, their take will be reduced by legal fees, which the judge will have to approve once the attorneys apply for them.
Vision, in a statement today, said it scored a victory in the suit when U.S. District Judge Roger Hunt ruled the crew members were not eligible for punitive damages based on the evidence they presented.
"The initial pleading by the plaintiffs cited various federal statutes and regulations requiring Vision Airlines to pay hazardous duty pay to its flight crews. The judge in the case found there was no basis for these assertions by the plaintiffs," Vision said in its statement.
"Vision Airlines does not agree with the decision in the case and plans to vigorously appeal this decision," said Bill Acor, CEO of Vision. "Vision paid its employees all of the pay they were due and made all required payments to its employees. The pay for these employees is among the highest in the industry. Vision has always complied with all of its obligations under its contracts. We are extremely disappointed by the action of the court and feel confident we will prevail on appeal. This award will not affect the operations of our company and we look forward to the opportunity to have all of the evidence heard on appeal."
Vision hasn't yet filed its appeal, which may cover a ruling by Hunt finding the company abused the discovery process by failing to turn over documents. In that ruling, Hunt struck from the record Vision's response to the lawsuit and entered a default judgment finding Vision liable for the pilots' claims.
Vision, which has charter and scheduled service based in North Las Vegas and Suwanee, Ga., has a fleet of aircraft including Boeing 767s, Boeing 737s, Dornier 328s and Dornier 228s.
Vision has air tour operations in Southern Nevada and last month announced plans to offer scheduled service between Atlanta and Louisville, Ky.
"The company serves a number of cities and will continue to add operations to include business hubs and popular leisure destinations," Vision said in today's statement.