Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Jamie Leigh Jones Case Goes to Court

I blogged about how arbitration rules would make it extremely difficult for Jamie Leigh Jones to take KBR to court. Jones was gangraped in Iraq by fellow KBR contractors. The company contends they are not liable. The Fifth Curcuit Court has decided to hear the case.

KBR is making to tort argument that Jones signed away her right to take KBR and Halliburton to court.

From the contract Jones signed:

You understand that the Dispute Resolution Program requires, as its last step, that any and all claims that you might have against Employer related to your employment, including your termination, and any and all personal injury claim[s] arising in the workplace, you have against other parent or affiliate of Employer, must be submitted to binding arbitration instead of to the court system.

Facts about the case: the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ruled Jones was sexually assaulted. Jones received medical treatment for injuries she received in Iraq. The State Department lost photographs and doctor's notes from Jones's rape kit. A lower court ruled Jones was falsely imprisoned by KBR employees. These facts are not in dispute.

Judge Rhesa Hawkins Barksdale came down hard against KBR/Halliburton.

Under these circumstances, the outer limits of the “related to” language of the arbitration provision have been tested, and breached. Halliburton/KBR essentially asks this court to read the arbitration provision so broadly as to encompass any claim related to Jones’ employer, or any incident that happened during her employment, but that is not the language of the contract. We do not hold that, as a matter of law, sexual-assault allegations can never “relate to” someone’s employment. For this action, however, Jones’ allegations do not “touch matters” related to her employment, let alone have a “significant relationship” to her employment contract.

Barksdale wrote that accusations of rape are too serious not to be heard in a court. Arbitration wasn't designed to protect rapists from lawsuits or criminal prosecution. The Fifth Circuit is essentially laughing the KBR/Halliburton argument out of court. The Fifth Circuit ruled Jones is bound to her contract. The Fifth Curcuit ruled only "employment-related claims" fall under arbitration. Jones' sexual assault falls outside the bounds of her contract. KBR/Halliburton argued that Jones's bedroom is considered her workplace. Jones did not sign a contract to get sexually harrassed and assaulted.

Tracy Barker fought to have her sexual assault case heard in court. She lost and was forced into arbitration. Jone's legal victory is significant for women that have been sexual assaulted by contractors. "This is wonderful news, not only for me but for those who have been bound into mandatory arbitrations," Jones told The Associated Press.

Stephanie Mencimer noted that Barksdale is a West Point graduate, Vietnam veteran and staunch conservative. Barksdale was the 2 to 1 swing vote in Jones's favor. The facts of the case are bad when Barksdale rules against a defense contractor.

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