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Dispute over violations the heart of a case involving Red Wing Aeroplane

A private jet-charter company’s contracts with its pilots do not violate federal law outlawing bonded servitude or peonage, ruled Pierce County Judge Joseph Boles in a written decision filed Oct. 17. But the judge found there are questions about claims one pilot made that should be settled at trial.

The decision involves a case filed by Red Wing Aeroplane Company, Bay City, against Donald J. Horton, Falcon Heights, Minn. The company filed a lawsuit last November, claiming Horton owes $8,000.

According to statements in the court file, Horton, 38, is a commercial pilot who had civilian experience flying humanitarian relief and medical personnel to villages and remote areas in Afghanistan, Africa, Asia and South America. When he returned to the United States in early 2012, he signed a contract with Red Wing Aeroplane, expecting to work for the company for at least a year and promising to repay money that RWA would spend on his training.

The contract says Horton agreed to pay $12,000 interest-free to continue his education as a pilot and the money would be either loaned to him or paid on his behalf. The terms of the note required him to make monthly payments of $1,000, said 8.33 percent of the loan balance would be forgiven as long as he worked for RWA and required him to pay any outstanding balance upon termination.

Before he received any salary, says Horton, he and two other new hires were sent to the Simcom Training Center in Phoenix, Ariz., for three days of refresher/recurrent training in a Cessna Citation simulator. Horton says he received three hours of instruction and completed his Airman Proficiency/Qualification Check.

After returning, says the court file, he flew 111 flights for RWA. On Aug. 25, 2012, he was assigned to fly as second officer on an international flight from Manassas, Va., to Thunder Bay and Thompson, Canada.

“On his return from the Canadian flight, he became aware that he was not legally allowed to act as second-in-command on an international flight in Canada without a second-in-command type rating designation from the FAA on his license,” claimed his attorney.

The lawyer says Horton questioned that and was told “don’t worry about it” because “no one ever checks.”

The attorney’s statement says because Horton didn’t want his career ruined by an international violation, “he decided he didn’t want to work for a company that played fast and loose with international law and began looking for other employment.

“This is not a case of his getting trained by RWA so he could go to work somewhere else; however, under the circumstances, when another employment opportunity presented itself, he took it.”

Horton claimed he resigned because he was being asked to violate the law. He alleged that request is “against public policy and voids the contract.”

Horton figures $3,616 was spent on his training. The company figured he owed $15,857. This past February, RWA offered to settle for $6,000.

RWA denied Horton was asked to act illegally, and that is the issue Judge Boles said should be decided at trial.